Jack over at the The Missal has some thoughts about the Obama Era and the people who live in it.
Archive for the ‘Heart and spirit’ Category
Posted by Ron Coleman on January 21, 2009
Posted by Ron Coleman on December 21, 2008
I wouldn’t necessarily hire Paul Greenberg as the rabbi for our shul, but he’s done a nice bit of work with this — appreciating Chanukah, and getting a pretty good grip on what it isn’t, from a perspective that should be appreciated across the Judeo-Christian spectrum:
In the glow of the candles, the heroic feats of the Maccabees have become transmuted into acts of divine intervention. The blessing over the candles recited each night of the holiday goes: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old.” Miracles, not victories.
At Passover, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is told with the same moral attached: It is He who delivered us, not we who freed ourselves. Freedom is a gift from God, not men.
Chanukah isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament. The swashbuckling stories of battles and victories have been relegated to the Apocrypha. A mere military victory rates only a secondary place in the canon. The victory is to be celebrated not for its own sake but for what it reveals.
One more violent confrontation has been lifted out of history and entered the realm of the sacred. A messy little guerrilla war in the dim past of a forgotten empire has become something else, something that partakes of the eternal.
The central metaphor of all religious belief — light — reduces all the imperial intrigue and internecine warfare of those tumultuous times to shadowy details. And that may be the greatest miracle of Chanukah: the transformation of the oldest and darkest of human activities, war, into a feast of illumination.
Hat tip to Lux Libertas.
Posted by Ron Coleman on December 16, 2008
New York’s NPR affiliate, WNYC, had a powerful item on this morning about the piano concertos of Beethoven, which represent, I learned, a self-standing volume of the canon of classical music all their own. It is part of their Beethoven Festival. It was informative and evocative to say the least (regrettably, if there is a link to an online version of the program, I can’t find it).
What is it about Beethoven — the music, the man, the concept — that resonates so powerfully? The melodrama of the tortured genius fighting Fate itself to create the world’s most brilliant and innovative music, even as he loses the ability to hear it performed, is irresistable. I learned this morning that Beethoven was such a leading-edge pianist himself that the technical demands he made on the still-new technology of the pianoforte instrument, where he did most of his composing, dragged piano makers into a new era of quality and responsiveness. Beethoven used his piano sonatas as studies for his orchestral and chamber works, so he needed the piano to be able to “sing” and represent as complete a range of musical and vocal performance possible.
But the ringing irony of all remains the storyline too good for literature: The brilliant composer who at the end of his career could not hear the real-world realization of one of history’s most gifted muses. Beethoven, they say, did not work in the manner ascribed to Mozart, seemingly acting as God’s musical scribe, taking Divine dictation “effortlessly” (an absurd concept) like a musical Prometheus. Beethoven tore up his soul and tortured his heart — and those many of those around him — to bring his muse to life.
True, a genius hears, in his own world, more sound than even he can bring to life — sometimes all too much. And the world was in Beethoven’s time, and is now, full of true horror on a far more prosaic plane than his. But if we ever let our eyes wander heavenward, the thought of the artistic tragedy of Beethoven is sometimes just too much to contemplate.
Posted by Ron Coleman on November 30, 2008
They’re still at war.
Posted by Ron Coleman on November 27, 2008
In light of all the Thanksgiving blogging and tweeting, I am reposting this piece, originally posted earlier this year on the eve of Rosh Hashana. It is not being the first time I’ve raised the same point on Thanksgiving. Both days are fundamentally about thankfulness — and the introspection that it demands — so I’m bumping it up here today, with minor tweaks:
It has been an extraordinarily eventful year for me on many, many planes, overwhelmingly in ways for which I am very grateful to God. Gratitude is the alpha of service of God, and of self-fulfillment, too — two endeavors that, to the thoughtless, appear to be opposite, but which are in fact one. From my point of view, neither is achieved fully without the other.
I say “from my point of view” even though my cousin Debbie, the writer, taught me many years ago that when you write something you need not say such a thing, because of course it is your point of view. You wrote it. But I say it so as not to offend my many friends who read here and who disagree and are, by habit, less offended if a proposition is put forth in a manner that sounds less absolute. It is a form of apology, and of course we know just how apologetic your blogger is at any time!
More of my point of view is my reiteration that when speaking of “gratitude,” God is the Whom to which gratitude must be directed, which is not to say that gratitude toward other individuals for their specific kindnesses is not also appropriate. But “I’m grateful” without an object — this makes no sense. I have never understood people expressing free-floating generic “gratitude” directed at … nothing. I do not consider it to be any more logical to say, “It is directed at the Universe,” which is essentially the same exact thing. I believe that people who express “gratitude” without acknowledging the source of the benefit to which they claim to be grateful, are saying words, but not, really, expressing gratitude. Gratitude must have an object because it is an acknowledgment of need, or lack, fulfilled by the other. Failing to recognize the other nullifies gratitude, and makes it merely a statement of fact, not an expression of thanks, that the empty stomach is now full; the infirm is now cured; the benighted, enlightened.
But I am not here to fight, not today. Forgive the digression — there, apologies again! Well, regret may be part of the introspection borne of gratitude, too.
And I for one am grateful, grateful to God, for a year that has been very good to me, and to many of the people I care about the most. Much progress, some of it incremental, but progress all the same.
I am grateful to have reached a point where I can perceive and appreciate incremental progress, too.
I am grateful to be able to interact with so many fine, deep, multifaceted people whose intentions are good.
I am grateful for middle age. I was born to be middle aged and now I am home. I hope I get to stay here for a long time!
I am grateful for life, for perspective, for wisdom, judgment, the ability to give, the powers that I have, for the judges who are starting to listen and the clients who do their best to pay.
I am grateful for the things that ought not be written, but should be said.
Grateful… step one. It is the first step, and while we must go beyond it, gratitude is the step that is never completed.
Posted by Ron Coleman on November 27, 2008
Extremist Muslims lashing out angrily at the West, as leverage on the Hindu majority in India, have slaughtered over 100 people in the Indian city of Mumbai. (Good roundup here.) These people were killed, in classical Islamist terrorist style, for just being who they are. So naturally the Jews were on their list of targets too, and the latest news is that “ten to twenty” Israelis are being held hostage in Mumbai’s Chabad House and a Mumbai hotel. [Update for live reports here.]
What’s a Chabad house? CHABAD is the Hebrew acronym for the words chochma, bina and daas — wisdom, understanding and knowledge — which form the basis of the philosophy of these Orthodox Jews, hasidim of the Lubavitch movement (named after a Russian town whence sprung their grand rabbis). Chabad has been controversial among Jews for over half a century, both for important aspects of its philosophy that distinguish it from other Orthodox Jewish approaches, for departing as it has from certain communal and “political” expectations of leaders among both the hasidic and non-hasidic world of strictly Orthodox Jews, and, most recently, for the unfortunate messianic insistences of a significant percentage of its adherents regarding its late Grand Rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a multifaceted genius who passed away 14 years ago and who despite his revolutionary leadership did not bring the Redemption.
Antipathy towards Lubavitch, or Chabad, has been intense among non-Lubavitchers among the strictly Orthodox for many years, in fact, and there is very little interaction between this group and the rest of us, even though many — such as myself — were profoundly and positively influenced by them at one time in their lives, frequently as a result of Chabad’s groundbreaking worldwide outreach efforts. Their interest has always been to recapture the spark of Jewishness in every child of the people Israel, though as is our practice not to proselytize outside of this extended family. But as to those within, not a single Jewish soul, they believed, taught and lived, is to be written off. Unfortunately, and ironically, their subculture within the broader strictly Orthodox Jewish subculture is perceived to have departed so far from the main that, for most, in the main centers of Jewish life we do not mix.
But today we are all Lubavitchers, all Chabadniks. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka Holtzberg were sent to Mumbai by Lubavitch to do their part to account for the thousands of Jewish souls, many Israeli, doing business, and others seeking (we believe, erroneously) spiritual enlightenment, in this major Indian city. They manned the Chabad House in Mumbai and met the expectation of every Jew who travels the world that in any place where it is likely that more than a handful of Jews might be found, there is a Chabad House (frequently where the Chabad rabbi and his family live) to offer Shabbos (Sabbath) hospitality, kosher food, perhaps even a bed for a few days, a connection to the root of the Jewish world and perhaps a little mashke (straight vodka) and a few hasidic stories more than “thrown in” for inspiration.
The latest report on the status of the Holtzbergs, their place and their persons targeted, as persons such as these have always been, is not encouraging. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Ron Coleman on November 25, 2008
I came home “early” tonight, so my fourth grade twins begged me to “do something” with them, which of course I had to do, and what they wanted me to do and what I did was watch three Three Stooges shorts on DVD on the computer in the basement. Now I have not seen a frame of the Stooges in over 35 years, I am sure, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. They certainly enjoyed it and, no less important, they enjoyed watching it with me.
My main “takeaway”: Shemp — who actually preceded Curly as the third Stooge, it turns out, though he replaced him after his death — really gets a bum rap. Yes, Curly was very special, but the fact is Shemp was one heck of a talented comic actor.
But the whole thing, really, is sad… but not in a way a fourth grade boy, or even two, would understand.
Posted by Ron Coleman on November 25, 2008
My son has asked me on more than one occasion recently, “So what do we do now?” Usually, in that conversation, I start out apologizing to him for the mess my generation has left him to deal with. Which leads to him asking his question.
Say it ain’t so, Ara. You apologize to your son? On behalf of your entire generation? Because it has left the future such a sticky, gooey mess?
It is stuff like this — and Ara is thoughtful, and insightful, and serious — that reminds me that even though I’m obviously not nearly rabidly oppositional enough about Barack Obama, I must really not be any kind of liberal at all.