Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sukkot: Fragile Dwelling Place

 

“The land of Israel is not rich in water
resources. . . For this reason, a special
prayer for rain was inserted into the
[Sukkot] service. Since the rainy season
starts approximately at Sukkot, it was
the appropriate time to pray for rain.
Jews are realists. One prays for rain
during the rainy season, not during
the dry summers. One walks across
water by stepping on rocks . . .”

-- Rabbi Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way

 

Hail and Rain just before Sukkot I saw the full moon of Sukkot, Season of Our Joy, rising over the mesa in the east, into the white and misty clouds of hail that had just fallen over Freedom Ridge Ranch and was now falling out toward the Red Hill and Cimarron Mesa.  On the ground by the roses, on the porch, and over on the cabin and barn roofs, drifts of pellet-sized hail lay, melting slowly into the waters running off of the hills and mesas, downcutting into rills, rapids and even falls, as they sang their way down to Red Hill Draw.

 

There will be no Sukkah at Freedom Ridge Ranch tonight.Double Rainbow Between Storms Rain was still falling intermittently as Tippy and I picked our way across to check the chickens, jumping across a stream and its smaller tributary, both coming down from the dirt tank west of the barn. The other dogs were not the least bit interested in leaving the shelter of the living room. They were shell shocked from lightning, thunder, downpour and then hail. A sudden appearance of the setting sun lit up a rainbow over Freedom Ridge, and then curtains of rains covered it again, until the clouds passed to the east and the moon rose into them.

 

In the pattern of the Holy Days this year, building a Sukkah was called due to rain. The damage to the landscape, the flooding, the car bottoming out in standing water in Red Hill Draw by the shipping pens, all these things together made the typical Sukkot not only difficult, but unimaginable. Sukkot celebrates not only the Ingathering Harvest, the last of the Israeli year, but it also commemorates the years of wandering in the desert. It is a reminder of the fragility and impermanence of life.  

For so many people in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, this impermanence is very real, as they realize what the floodwaters took, and clean up what is left, much of the stuff of their lives washed away like the stuff of our hillsides, roads and driveways. Normal life will not come for weeks or even months for friends of ours who live in Coal Creek Canyon. There house is high and soggy, but they will not see a return of drinking water and natural gas for a long while. They know the fragility of their dwelling place on real terms this Sukkot.

For us, the damage is in a bottomed out car, washed out roads and rilling and gullying in our harsh but fragile landscape. We’ve come through lightly, really. But on another level, we are also confronting impermanence without the need to build a Sukkah this year. Although this is now our permanent dwelling here at Freedom Ridge Ranch, we are in the midst of completing repairs requested by the buyers of the house up in Sedillo, the beautiful house we both thought would be our last. And we are buying a casita, a small and comparatively inexpensive house on a hill north of the Sedillo house a good ten miles by road.

The casita will be a place for the Cowboy to live while he finishes his degree and certifications in welding and metal technology. It will be a place for me to stay this fall and next spring, as I focus intensively on finishing my coursework so I can take my comprehensive exams. It will be a place for the Engineering Geek to land when he comes up to Albuquerque and Sandia Labs on business, for he has contracts that require his intermittent presence. It will not be home. But we will be back and forth between home and not-home a lot, all of us. And while this is the case, we hope to be completing the additions and renovations that will make the ranch house uniquely ours.

Our dwelling place will be most fragile and impermanent this year. Like our ancestors, who had to wander in the wilderness until they understood what freedom really requires. 

“As Jews moved into exile, they understood
what the Sukkah had always taught them: G-d
is not fixed; G-d is everywhere. After the
Exodus, Israel went into the desert to meet
its lord. Later, the favor was returned by
G-d, who went with them into exile, into
the travail of history. Jews learned that the
Shekhinah (Indwelling Presence) was with them
in times of exile and wandering.”

    --Rabbi Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way

I miss the Sukkah already. The fragrant fall odors of Etrog and s’chach; the moonlit nights in the Sukkah, and the warm Shabbat afternoons. All the delights for the senses, the celebration of the harvest. But this year, with all of our life so impermanent, with our family scattered hither and yon, the reminder of the fragility of life, the shaky nature of shelter in the autumn wind is being delivered another way. Like so many of our friends and neighbors, undone by the Great Southwest Flood of 2013, we don’t need the Sukkah to remind us of these things. Our life is fragile enough. As Rabbi Greenberg reminds us:

“Until the world is redeemed from slavery,
Jews are on an Exodus journey; perforce
they are in, but not really of,the society
and culture they inhabit. Jews can con-
tribute without really accepting the
system. The tremendous effort to parti-
cipate led to Jewish integration into the 
host culture. Then the Sukkah reminded
them to push on. There were miles to go,
on the Exodus way . . .”

-- The Jewish Way

Mother Nature has completed the traditional Water-Pouring, Tevillah, that used to take place on the first night of Sukkot during the days of the Second Temple. She even through in some ice to go with the fiery lighting. And now life itself, and the way it works, is bringing us to a new understanding of impermanence.

Life is a fragile thing, and we shake like a Sukkah in the autumn winds. Yet like the Sukkah, we generally manage to remain standing. Through fire. And water. And ice.
There is a toughness to us as well. It gets us through hard times and makes us too stiff-necked to bow down to what our hands have made.

That is the point of the Exodus journey. Freedom isn’t free. It takes time and an understanding that idolatry is not compatible with our liberty. The adventure has been worth the cost, as we are reminded again each Sukkot what is important and what is not.

Our spirits have a fragile dwelling place, a body that bends and sometimes breaks. But we also have Shekhinah, reminding us that beyond all the fragility, something of us is strong and mighty.

Chag Sameach. Happy harvest!

 




Monday, September 16, 2013

High Holy Days 5774:Who Causes the Wind to Blow and the Rain to Fall





Ordinarily, on Shemini Atzeret--the eighth day of lingering--at the end of Sukkot, we add t'filat ha-geshem--the prayer for rain--to the Amidah, which is the standing prayer in the daily services.  It is considered bad luck when the rains come early, and make it difficult to dwell in the Sukkah--the harvest booth--as is commanded during the Feast of Ingathering Harvest.

 Geshem continues to be said across the winter until the spring Festival of Pesach is celebrated, when the summer blessing for Tal--Dew--is added and Geshem is retired until the next Sukkot Holiday. This corresponds to the seasons of Israel, wet in the winter and dry in the summer. 

This year. even as the Holy Days came early in the solar year, Rosh Hashanah starting on the evening of the 4th of September, so too did the rains come early. Or in our case, the monsoon stayed late, making holiday travel as difficult for Jews in Catron County, New Mexico, as it was for the Jews of Judea in the days of old when farmers were expected to build their Sukkot on the hills surrounding Jerusalem.

We had planned to attend High Holy Day Services in Flagstaff, at the little Heichal ba-Oranim synagogue, where we had gone last year. I was looking forward to finally being able to join that congregation, now that the house in Sedillo is under contract, and we are able to make the necessary contributions. We have been without a home synagogue for more than a year, and we were looking forward to making a commitment and enjoying a pleasant holiday in a very haimish shul

Alas, it was not to be. As September came, a new and very wet monsoon plume settled over the Southwest. Predictions of thunderstorms and flash floods became a daily reminder that our roads could become impassible in no time at all.

 Rosh Hashanah itself was partly cloudy, but the threat of rain made us decide to stay home lest we not be able to get back should the rains come.  We had a festive meal with all of the traditional foods on Erev Rosh Hashanah, and we prayed the evening service on the porch.
 The next morning, we again prayed on the porch, the sun dancing with the clouds as I proclaimed: Ha-yom harat olam!  This is the day of the world's birth! And the Engineering Geek blew the intricate set of Shofar calls three times: once for Creation, once for Memory, and once for Revelation. The sound of the Shofar rang out across Freedom Ridge, and the horses raised their heads, the dogs barked, and the cows began lowing. The hawk soared and circled on the wind, unconcerned. 

In the afternoon, we did leave for a drive around Big Lake, where the EG and my nephew skipped stones on the water after we cast our bread upon them in the ancient and fanciful ceremony of Tashlich, a casting away of the old and inviting in of the New Year. I have always thought that Tashlich is simply an excuse to take a walk on Rosh Hashanah afternoon, after a long morning service. It began to rain as we drove back along the county road to the ranch. Second day, and thunderstorms near candle-lighting for Shabbat. We missed the Sacred Assembly on the first and second days of the Seventh Month entirely. 


On Sunday after a day of rain, I drove out with the EG behind me in the Dodge Ram in case he had to pull me out. After slipping and sliding down the county road,  I went to Albuquerque for class, and to take care of some business. And on Tuesday, the rain set in there. It rained all day. ALL DAY. A record rainfall. I came home Wednesday, between storms. The road was soft, and there was water in the arroyo, and I drove on the high spots between ruts. Thursday, the rain began in our part of the state, and we knew that there would be no travel to Flagstaff for us. Friday, as I prepared the pre-fast meal, I read about the flooding in Colorado on the internet.




Just before sunset, we invited Yitzak Pearlman to perform Kol Nidre via YouTube.
All vows that we make between this Yom Kippur and the next . . .
Then candle lighting, and the evening service. I sang the parts of the service we could do without a minyan.

 Lightning played across Freedom Ridge as we let the dogs in and began the Al Chet. 
 V'al kulam eloah s'lichot . . . for all these, O G-d of Forgiveness. . . 
and the electric lights flickered along with the candles. A bolt of lighting. Almost simultaneous thunder. And the lights went out, leaving only the flickering candles.  
Lev tahor b'ra-li, elohim . . .create in me a clean heart, O G-d . . . our shadows large upon the eastern wall in the candle light. Sometime in the night, the candles went out and the electricity was restored, but we were sleeping and the next light we saw was a pearly, gray dawn and ragged clouds scudding across the sky, driven by a wet wind. 

We dressed again in white. No leather, no grooming. For the first Yom Kippur day of my marriage, I did not see my husband--Reform Princeling that he is--in a dark suit, starched white shirt and somber tie. As we sat on the couch and read aloud from Climbing Jacob's Ladder: One Man's Journey to Rediscover a Jewish Spiritual Tradition the clouds gathered in the south. "Wind from the South has water in its mouth'\," chanted the EG, as the sky darkened and the rains began.
All that day, as we prayed in the cool, shadowy living room in stocking feet, our tallitot wrapped for warmth and the feeling of being enfolded by Shechinah--the Indwelling Presence--the rains came in sprinkles and soft curtains, now and again hiding the Red Hill.

Morning Service.
"Let us proclaim the sacred power of this day:

It is awesome and full of dread . . .
On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. . . 
Who by fire, and who by water, who by sword and who by beast . . ."

Additional Service. And a short walk in the sprinkling rain.
Resting on the porch, still well wrapped.
Memorial Service.


Afternoon Service. The Ten Martyrs.
Eili tzion v'areha . . . For Zion and her cities I mourn 
like a mother in her anguish,
 like a woman who mourns the husband of her youth.  
I mourn the exile of the servants of G-d,
makers of sweet melodies,
v'al dama asher shufach . . . their blood poured out like Zion's streams

And all that day the rains fell, weeping like Rachel for her children . . .
For we did not know, cut off in the sacred silence of that day, that in Colorado, in New Mexico, in Catron County, the flood waters were rising, and in the Blue River Canyon on Catron's border with Arizona, people were lifted out by helicopter and brought out on bulldozers. And it rained. And rained.

Neilah. The Closing of the Gates. 

"This is the house of G-d.
This is the gate of heaven . . . 

El norah alila . . . G-d of awesome deeds, 
grant us pardon . . . b'sh-at neilah . . . as the gates begin to close.
Avinu malkenu . . . let the gates of heaven be open to our prayer . . .
let the new year be a good year for us . . . make an end to all oppression
upon us . . .be our help. 

And the rain stopped. And we stopped to say the blessing for the Rainbow
 as the last rays of the setting sun shone across our valley.
". . . zocher ha-brit . . . who remembers the covenant . . .

Seu Sha-arim roshechem . . . Lift up your heads, O Gates!
Ha-shem, hu ha-elohim. . . 
Seven times and the last long blast of the Shofar.
We thought of it happening hour after hour as the world turned from day to night.
All those at the Wall.

Havdalah. 

"Blessed is the One who separates the holy from the ordinary,
light from darkness, the House of Israel from among the peoples. . ."
And the candle is extinguished in the sweet wine, the taste of which is on our lips.
And the lamps are lighted.

Motzi.
". . . who brings forth bread from the earth . . ."

Sweet round challah with raisins. 
Cream cheese.
Salmon. 

We broke the fast, and eating and drinking, we once again consider the goodness of the ordinary riches of our lives. 
"For I saw how good it is for [man], and beautiful, to eat and drink and know goodness for all his work that he does under the sun . . ."  

We had good holidays. It was still beautiful and filled with meaning that we made, though we missed the beauty of being in the midst of the holy congregation.
But the rains kept us off the roads and in our home. 

We made the best of it and we did well. 

We are soggy, and today I bottomed out the car in the arroyo, and had to have it towed because the box that monitors emissions and engine codes came loose. 
We have rutted roads, a few wash-outs, and full streams.
But no helicoptors or bulldozers.
We have electricity.
We are well.

It's raining again.

The water-pouring of Shemini Atzeret comes a little early.
Blessed is the One who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.

Geshem. 
We wanted rain and we needed rain. 
Everything is green, even as the Aspens are beginning to turn gold.
But maybe, just maybe, it's time to build an ark? They need one in Colorado, Northern New Mexico, and on the Blue River.
What's a cubit . . . 








Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9-11: She Stands

 

9-11 Never Forget

 

I will never forget that day. It marked me just as surely as Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg and Valley Forge have marked previous generations of Americans.

 

9-11 Second PlaneI close my eyes and I see the images: 
A tower burning in a clear, blue September sky.
An airplane flying into a building.
People falling along the side of a building.
Towers falling, one floor into another.
People running through what were once streets.  
Papers falling from the clear blue September sky.
All in silence. Like a dream.

 

firefightersraiseamericanflagamidsrescueAnd out of the dust and ashes, I see the image: 
She stands.
“Just when you think it might be over
Just when you think the fight is gone
Someone will risk his life to raise her
There she stands  . . .”
(10
I remember this as if I had been there.

 

Freedom Tower Spire Raised II Twelve years. And the tears still come. 
We are wounded in spirit. 
For a clear September sky still evokes
the frozen images as if no time had passed. 
But through the tears we see another rising
to a new and taller stand.
For Americans still rise to greatness, and there she stands. . .
(2)

 

Freedom Tower Under Construction There she stands.
It took longer than expected.
And we look back and count the cost.
1776 feet she rises,
There she stands. (2)
The greatest monument to American dead
is to rebuild the alabaster cities of their dreams.
Out of the rubble, we raise them up:
higher, prouder, stronger than before.
She stands.

9-11 Flag in Rubble When evil calls itself a martyr
When all your hopes come crashing down
Someone will pull her from the rubble
There she stands.
(1)
Both of them--
the flag and the Freedom Tower (3)
we raise to remind ourselves of
who we are
and to what we commit ourselves.

 

 

Freedom Tower Alabaster City

“Oh, beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years.
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human tears. . .” (4)

Click through to see a time-lapse video of the rise of the Freedom Tower. (3)

NOTES:
1. There She Stands by Michael W. Smith
2. My words in the spirit of There She Stands, with apologies to Michael W. Smith.
3. I know they changed the name, but for me, it is and will always be Freedom Tower.
4. America the Beautiful by Katherine Lee Bates.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Walking the Thin Line: Elul 5773

 

elul-selichot

“I, I Am the One that comforts you; who are you, to be afraid of man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be made as grass. . .?”

--Haftorah Shoftim, Isaiah 51:12

 

“Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue . . .”

--Parashat Shoftim, Devarim 16:20

 

“Walking the thin line, between fear and the call; one learns to bend and finally depend on the Love of it all.”

--Noel Paul Stookey, For the Love of It All

The month of Elul started last Monday at sundown, on Rosh Chodesh, the sixth New Moon from the New Year for months.

My Elul dream this year came late, on Wednesday night, and without clarity or drama. In fact, I really don’t remember it at all, except that I dreamed of the current rabbi at our former synagogue, and of a neighbor in need of help finding a lost cat. I awoke to Tippy, my guardian Border Collie cross, pawing at my shoulder in the middle of the night. She feels it is important to awaken me when something unusual is going on. I went out to see an elk buck with eight points standing in the meadow in the deep darkness under a setting Big Dipper handle. Tippy did not bark at the elk this time; she seemed to think the elk belonged exactly in that place. She just wanted me to know he was there and awakened me to see him standing.

 

I don’t have a ready interpretation for the fragment of a dream or the meaning of seeing the elk standing in his place. Their significance escapes me, except that as I stood gazing at the elk in the starlight, I remembered that it was now Elul

This Shabbat, as the Engineering Geek and I sat down to study Torah, I was struck by two statements that jumped off the pages and into my mind, one from the beginning of the Parashat of the week, and one from its Haftorah. As I turned them over in my mind, I realized that the two of them together represent that place I have been for the last half-decade: I have been “walking the thin line between fear and the call” as Emmy Lou Harris sings in the Paul Stookey song, The Love of it All.

 

The Torah portion for the first Shabbat in Elul is Shoftim, which means “judges” or “chieftans” in Hebrew. In the first paragraph, which deals with how judgment must conform to justice, we read:

“You shall make for yourselves judges and officers in all your gates, which Adonai your G-d gives you, tribe by tribe; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment: you shall not pervert justice; you shall not respect persons; neither shall you take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the  eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land that Adonai your G-d is giving to you.”

 

צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof

The call at the beginning of the Month of Elul—the beginning of the season of our turning, is to pursue justice or righteousness. In Hebrew, the words are the same. Justice means to make a judgment according to honor, standards or the law, meting out to every individual what is right according to his or her rights and actions. Our rabbis taught that there is the justice of the streets—the righteousness with which we must treat every person—and the justice of the courts. If we fail to act with justice in all of our dealings on the streets, then justice must be adjudicated in the courts. In his commentary on the Torah, Joseph Hertz, Ph.D., who was the Chief Rabbi of Britain in the early 20th century, points out that in this sense, the Hebrew understanding of justice differs from the Greek. He wrote that in the Greek, justice implies:


“[A] harmonious arrangement of society, by which every human peg is put into its appropriate hole, so that those who perform humble functions shall be content to perform them in due subservience to their betters. It stresses the inequalities of human nature, whereas in the Hebrew conception of justice, the equality is stressed.”

--Soncino Press Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text, English Translation and Commentary, J.H. Hersch, Ed., p. 821

This is the case because in Hebrew thought, every human being is made in the image of the Eternal, and his life is unique and precious, possessing, as he does, a spark of Infinity. Therefore, as Hersch continues, every person has “the right to life, honor and all the fruits of his labor,” (p. 821). For this reason, Jewish Law demands that every human being be treated with honor in the streets, and with righteousness in the courts.

But if the call of Elul is to justice, then the burden of answering it is fearful, as the prophets show us. For to behave with righteousness towards everyone in the streets and to mete out equal justice in the courts, flies in the face of social conventions and political correctness. One must honor truth, consider the facts, and render judgment accordingly in all dealings. One may not condemn the rich man because he is rich nor excuse the poor man because he is poor (“you shall not respect persons”), and one may not base how one treats another on gifts or flattery (“you shall not take a bribe”). For this reason, acting with righteousness and justice is likely to get a person in trouble socially and legally in an unjust society. And as we currently live in a society that no longer makes judgments based on righteousness and law, but does so on the exigencies of political correctness and the whims of men, acting with justice is a difficult and dangerous thing.

 

And herein lies how I, among others, have been “walking the thin line between fear and the call” as we recognize the truth of what is being done to our civil society and to its values and law. For in my determination—made every Rosh Hashanah for the past four years—to honor the truth and act righteously, I have said and done things that have earned me the anger and contempt of friends and acquaintances. Sadly, this has ended many friendships that were based on my former habit of ignoring the reality of growing differences between our worldviews. Some of the ways in which those friendships were ended, and the accusations leveled against me, have cut me to the core of my being.

 
And in my weaker moments, I am afraid that in stepping out beyond the lines of political correctness and social  and legal convention, I will be harmed not only socially, but financially and/or physically. Because making a stand for plain old justice in a world of collectivist notions of “social justice” is no longer simply bad form, but with the oppression of the surveillance state and the police state being created and solidifying with terrifying rapidity, it is downright dangerous. Speech and action that now can cost one her dignity, property and perhaps, her liberty, may soon cost one her life.


And that fear causes me temporary confusion and wrong action. It creates doubt in my mind and silence in my mouth. And so the Haftorah Shoftim, the fourth in the seven Haftorot of Comfort, also comforts me:

“I, I Am the One that comforts you; who are you to be afraid . . ?

“. . . And where is the fury of the oppressor? He that is bent down shall speedily be loosed; and he shall not go down dying into the pit. Neither shall his bread fail.”


I know that I am one small person. I know that I can err in knowledge, and that I have indeed done so, espousing bad causes and supporting bad means in the name of what seemed to me at the time to be good ends. Moreover, I have obstinately continued in bad courses because I did not have the courage to admit that I was confused, or lacking in knowledge, or that I was downright wrong. And in so doing, I have excused the guilty and harmed the innocent. Of this, I am not proud. 

But to paraphrase Julian of Norwich:

He did not say “You shall not screw up.” He did not say “You shall not be discouraged.” He did not say:\ “You shall not be harmed.” But he said: “You shall not be overcome.”

I suppose what that means is open to interpretation. To me, it means that trials and troubles, and even harm are not the worst thing. The worst thing is to lose one’s honor and integrity; to lose one’s identity and one’s very soul. And if I persist in finding righteousness and doing justice, turning and returning again to walk the thin line, then despite any shame or harm done to me, I will remain who I am, and that is the greatest value to me.

The name of the month of Elul is an acronym in Hebrew that stands for Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li—I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine. Elul is the point of turning and returning again in the dance of Shekinah, She who dwells with Israel in our exile, in our eternal betrothal with the Master of the Universe. And here, in my own dwelling place, Elul is the point of turning and returning again in my dance as a Jew, longing all my life for that moment of loving kindness, that betrothal of righteousness and justice, that Place, that shelter in the rock, where I get a glimpse of all of G-d’s goodness passing before me.

 

“For the Love of it all, I would go anywhere; to the ends of the earth, Oh, what is it worth, if Love would be there?

Walking the thin line, between fear and the call; one learns to bend and finally depend on the Love of it all.”

 

It is the love of it all—of life and being—that unites the call to justice and righteousness with the will to overcome fear and fills my heart with strength for the journey. And year after year, I turn and return again to the call in the dance of Elul. I come again to Makom, the Dwelling Place of Israel, only to know that I have been here, walking the thin line, day after day, year after year.

 

So. Maybe I can construct the meaning of Tippy’s silence as she brought me to see the elk. He was standing within his place, his Makom. And so am I, walking the thin line. Here, in this place between fear and the call, is Makom, the Presence of the Eternal. As Israel learned in her exile, as Isaiah reminds Jews to this day in the first Haftorah of Comfort:


הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

Hinei eloheichem

Here is your G-d.
 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lie in August’s Welcome Corn!

     “Join in black December’s sadness, lie in August’s welcome corn, stir the cup that’s ever blending with the blood of all that’s born . . .”

-- Jethro Tull,  Cup of Wonder, from Songs from the Wood

                         

Pesach took me by surprise and then there was a long silence on this blog. So many things happened in April and May and then summer was upon us, and now the Monsoon and the first hints of autumn are already showing themselves here in the high country. Elul is also upon us, early this year just as Pesach was. But in order to begin looking to the year ahead, I need to look back at least a bit to see what brought me from there to here.

 

April, Come She Will:

Northern Flicker Female III The post-Pesach Spring Term was divided between Freedom Ridge Ranch and the house in Sedillo. Both the Cowboy and I were taking classes, he at CNM and me at UNM. In April, we drove up to Albuquerque every Monday morning and returned late Thursday night. It was a hectic busy time, make more do-able by the increasing light and warmth, although it was a cool spring in New Mexico.

In April, I:

  •   Edited a dissertation for my Ruby Slipper friend, doing both APA Style formatting, grammar and spelling, and helping with writing style.
  • Worked on a literature review for a class I was taking, as well as a research proposal and presentation.
  •   Enjoyed down time hanging out at Barnes and Noble in Albuquerque, and began planning the summer work at the ranch.

May Days:DSC01283

The term ended for the Cowboy and I at the end of April,  and he returned to the ranch and stayed. However, I was still back and forth there, and on up to Aurora, Colorado, mostly on Libertarian Business.

In May, I:

  •   Helped plan and attended the LPNM annual convention, where I was termed out as Vice Chair and began a term as Secretary. There was a lot of politicking involved this time as we had a take-over threat and I really wanted our current Chair to remain Chair, although he wasn’t so sure.
  •   Continued final editing on the Ruby Slipper’s dissertation, which reported a kick-ass study he did.
  •   Drove up to Aurora one weekend for the Libertarian State Leadership Alliance meeting, held in conjunction with the Colorado State Convention. This was great—more relaxed than the bi-annual National Convention—there was plenty of time to talk to Libertarians. It always feels like coming home!
  •    With the pressures of committee and comps preparation over for the semester, I had a chance to spend time with Excel Manufacturing friends after a long hiatus.
  •   At the ranch, we welcomed our only baby calf of the spring (we had shipped some of the older cows and the bull earlier in the year). We also had water-pipe problems and had to work on the system, and install a new French drain in the irrigation system as well. We got the fencing complete for the greenhouse/garden area.

June is the Hottest Month:

DSC01337 June is hot and dry in New Mexico. Every living thing begins to long for water, and people slow down. We had several weeks of very hot weather, and late in June, temperatures climbed to a record 106 degrees. During late May and June, we had a number of serious wildfires in New Mexico and Arizona, and we saw some smoke at the ranch and in Albuquerque.

In June:

  • I picked up my nephew, the Illinois Boy, at the airport as his parents moved to Texas and he came to try out life at the ranch. Once he adjusted to the altitude, he took to it very well.
  • The day I picked up the IB, I had a long talk with my realtor, and we brought the price down for the Sedillo house, my beautiful Hobbit Hole. It was a painful decision, but important. We knew we needed to sell the house.
  • On the second Friday in June, I thought I saw lightning as I was setting the Shabbat table. Dry lightning is common in June, so I thought nothing of it. The next morning, I woke up with a floater in my eye. I called Eye-Doc Randi that afternoon, and the short of it is that I had a vitreous detachment, requiring numerous trips to Albuquerque and UNM Eye Clinic for monitoring.
  • We started fencing for a new horse pasture, and the Cowboy was really happy to have the IB’s help. The IB also learned to ride a horse, drive cattle and drive the tractor. We will make a cowboy of him yet!
  • I went riding every week with a friend, JL, another Jew in the Republic of Catron. She was a wrangler for years in Arizona, and passed on some of her riding expertise to me.
  • The Cowboy broke his hand while driving cows, and spent five weeks in a cast. Or he was supposed to, anyway!

 

 

Glorious July:  DSC01358

July was truly a wonderful month, because the Monsoon  came right on the Glorious Fourth and stayed through the month. We got 3.53 inches of precipitation for the month, several of them in cloudbursts that re-arranged the landscape.

In July:

  • We celebrated the Glorious 4th small-town style, with a parade and BBQ. Yours truly was honored to read the Declaration of Independence right after the choral presentation of patriotic music.
  • The IB settled in, helping me dig retention basins around the trees, and we started a garden.
  • The Cowboy spend several weeks working cattle at the York Ranch, but that ended in mid-July because the Monsoon had not yet hit the Continental Divide Country, and they shipped their cattle to a ranch in Texas for better grass.
  • I qualified for my Concealed Carry Weapon license, shooting the EG’s Glock .40!
  • The Cowboy removed his cast prematurely at the York Ranch, cutting it off himself, because it was getting gnarly. He’s definitely a Cowboy.
  • The IB had to return to Illinois to take care of some business late in July and we weren’t sure if he was coming back.
  • In the same week, Eye-Doc Randi found a small tear in the retina of my right eye—the one with the vitreous detachment—and I had a week in Albuquerque, playing appointment tag with an over-worked retina specialist.
  • In the same week, the IB decided to come back—with resome gentle pushing and bribery from his mother and grandparents, and I arranged the flight.
  • In the same week, we had a real gully-washer and frog-strangler, that washed away half the county. We have a new micro-topography here at the Ranch.

 

Lie in August’s Welcome Corn: 

Morning After Rain IIIAnd here we are at the end of the first full week of August. Time speeds when there is so much to accomplish and so many things happening.

The country looks like spring does elsewhere, all green and gold with water falling from the sky, running, trickling and making mud for the dogs to play in and trucks to get stuck in. The IB, gone barely two weeks, did not recognize the place.

And the day I picked him up at the airport, we got an offer on the house. Monday, that was. We dickered Monday evening to Tuesday afternoon. We came to agreement just after I had a good interview for a part-time staff position at CNM, a position I applied for in the Disability Center.

Whoo-hoo! The house is under contract. And, sniffle, we must now say good-bye to that era in our lives.

And just in time for Elul—the season of our turning . . .

But that’s another blog.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pesach: This Kept Us Standing

 

“And this Covenant is what kept our ancestors standing, and ourselves as well: That in every generation more than one enemy has arisen against us, to annihilate us, but the Covenant of the Holy One has stood and delivered us from their hands.”

--Vehi Sheamda, Hagaddah shel Pesach

“Rashi comments that this declaration of Vehi Sheamda is the reiteration of the promise that Ha-Shem made to Avraham of "V'gam as hagoi asher ya'avdu, dan anochi..." The nation that enslaves you will also be judged by Me..." This promise, which has stood for our forefathers, stands for us as well. Anyone who comes upon us, Ha-Shem judges them and saves us from their hands.” 

--R. Yehuda Prero, The Passover Hagaddah Commentary Part I: Maggid (torah.org)

Passover time seems to take me by surprise when it comes early in the solar year. This year, it begins this Monday evening, March 25, and getting myself motivated to do the cleaning, get the chametz out, and turn the kitchen over has been difficult. With everything that is going on in our lives right now, I kept hearing that voice in my head saying: “I don’t want to do it this year. This year, I think I’ll skip it. After all, how important is that I, a little person, observe all the rituals and complete the slaving cleaning for Pesach. Surely, the Universe will not be disturbed by my decision not to participate.”

 

And then a friend sent me this beautiful rendition of Vehi Sheamda with commentary by the chief rabbi of South Africa:

 

And when I saw the translation given for the first line of the Vehi Sheamda: “And this COVENANT is what kept our ancestors standing, and ourselves . . .” I got it. Of course it matters that I clean and remove the chametz from our little house, here on the edge of the Mogollon Rim, far from the centers of power in the world.

From the point of view of those who hate us, who denigrate the beautiful heritage of Torah, it does not matter what I do. In fact, they would rather that I did nothing. They would rather that I, that we, forget the Covenant and disappear like all the other nations, becoming a footnote to a footnote in the reaches of history.

“For in every generation, more than one enemy has arisen to destroy us.” This statement is undeniably true. Never in our long and tumultuous history, have the Jewish people been ignored and been allowed to freely exercise the observance of our Covenant unopposed. Although America has become home and our greatest sanctuary, it is uncertain at best, given the hatred directed at the Land of Free and the Home of Brave, and at those of us among her people who are Jews.

And yet we persist. Out of sheer cussed stubbornness, we insist on going on existing despite the depredations of our enemies. And why do we persist? That is a miracle of the most Hebrew kind. For no natural laws have been suspended for us, and many of Jews have gone up in smoke, or have had rockets rain down upon their heads in their own lands, or have been forced from their homes in Egypt, in Yemen, in Iran—from those days at this season, to this day when we live under the threat of being bombed back to the stone age by mullahs from the stone age.

But the signs and wonders are there, and the evidence of the mighty hand of the Eternal, for those with eyes to see them. Unlike Moses, most of the world has no patience to sit and watch a bush aflame until they can see that it is not consumed. And so most human beings miss the signs and wonders that they walk past every day.

Among them, is this sign. Once again, all over the world, Jewish women retrieve the mops and brooms, fill their pails with water, and begin the ancient ritual of clearing out the chametz—the leaven—from their homes. We kneel down to sweep it away with a feather, and our men take it to burn it on the eve of Pesach. All of us, every year, are enacting the journey from slavery to freedom, from the worship of idols to the service of the Covenant, from Jerusalem destroyed to Jerusalem rebuilt.

In these humble actions, unnoticeable and unnoted, we renew for ourselves the Covenant that began when we came forth from slavery, into freedom. Passover, like all other Jewish holidays, is a reminded of the Covenant. But Passover is also the story of how we came to be who we are, Am ha-Brit, the People of the Covenant.

But the Covenant of the Holy One has stood and delivered us from their hands.” The sign and the wonder is not something that is shown to us as we continue to survive and thrive despite the wish of the most recent of our enemies to “wipe us off the map” of the world. Rather, the sign and the wonder is us, ourselves, keeping the Covenant. We have been taught that if even a remnant of Israel keeps the Covenant, that will be the salvation of us all. And for us, salvation is not some promise of life after death, rather it is the continuation of our people. Salvation is effected in our stubborn insistence that: Od Avinu Chai! Am Yisrael Chai! Our father yet lives! The People Israel lives!

For as much as we keep the Covenant, the Covenant keeps us.” (Machzor). As Jews, as that obstinate Remnant of Israel, that goes on surviving when most of the world would rather we were dead, the meticulous observation of the laws of Pesach, and the arcane rituals from another time are a touchstone that reminds us who we are. On the surface, I am an ordinary ranch wife, an American woman living in the rump end of flyover country, a human being among millions, whose life and death will be little known and little noticed. But when I kneel down to sweep the chametz off the hearth, I am also a daughter of the Covenant, a child of Abraham and Sarah, a companion of Moses and Miriam. I am free woman, brought forth from slavery, with signs and wonders, awesome power, a mighty arm and outstretched hand. My liberty matters.

And what I do about that matters. It matters because it preserves an identity that has existed from Sinai until now, an eternal braid of ritual and remembrance, giving my actions a meaning and reality that transcends my place and time. And so, despite the whispers of the destroyers who have dogged our steps from Egypt until now, and despite the momentary whisper of not wanting to begin, I retrieved my mop and broom, filled my pail with water, and began to clean my house, remove the chametz, and tomorrow after Shabbat, I will turn over the kitchen for Pesach.

For in every generation, each one is obligated to regard herself as having personally come forth from Egypt . . .”

It was not easy to come forth from the house of slavery, the fleshpots of Egypt. But some things are worth fighting for. Our existence and our identity as a people nurtured on freedom comes from this Covenant.
And THIS COVENANT is what keeps us standing . . .”

 





 


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lady Macbeth is a Racist: Newspeak, Self-Censorship and Withdrawing Sanction

 

A good deal of the literature of the past was, indeed, already being transformed [ideologically]. Considerations of prestige made it desirable to preserve the memory of certain historical figures, while at the same time bringing their achievements into line with the philosophy of Ingsoc. Various writers, such as Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Byron, Dickens, and some others were therefore in process of translation: when the task had been completed, their original writings, with all else that survived of the literature of the past, would be destroyed.

--George Orwell: Principles of Newspeak

 

Simply put, if you are . . . for Constitutionally limited government, free market capitalism, equality under the law, and freedom for all Americans, then you are a racist. If you are for unlimited government and increasing dependency on the Democrat Party, then you are not a racist. Any questions?

-- Kyle Becker: The Politically Correct Guide to Racism for Idiots 

 

I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed for evil to win—and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to withhold his consent. I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was “No.”

--Ayn Rand: John Galt’s Speech, Atlas Shrugged

 

There has been much discussion on the internet of the Progressive Democrat’s tendency to avoid constructing an argument or to shout down a painful truth by accusing others of racism. On the punditry level, such accusations has gone from the ridiculous to the outright idiotic as black Democratic Party hacks have gone from accusing libertarians and conservatives of racism for criticism of the president for his ideology and policies to accusing us of racism for the use of certain otherwise neutral words in our political speech. It has come to the point where one can neither criticize Obama for his general ineptitude, foreign policy or domestic policies, nor use certain words (“golf,” “apartment,” “anger,” “socialist” and “crime” all come to mind) in reference to any administration official whatsoever, without being accused of being a racist.

In the political arena, we know the purpose of this tactic: it is to silence and isolate the opposition without the bother of actually constructing an argument. Such demonization is a shortcut to winning through intimidation, in order that certain ideas become impossible to talk about at all, ensuring the Democratic party an unearned hegemony over public discourse. In short, it is Newspeak in the Orwellian sense:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought -- that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc -- should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.

--George Orwell: Principles of Newspeak

Thus the accusation of racism in response to political speech in this fashion is the tool of the demagogue, pure and simple.

Even more troubling is the use of the tactic by progressives against their “friends” during personal and public conversations on any topic in which someone lets a political (but not necessarily partisan) statement slip out. Here again, the purpose of the accusation is to demonize someone who does not agree on some issue, and to 
silence opposition in order to evade an unwanted truth.

Since we live in a society that conflates accusation with guilt, such an attack is difficult to recover from, because it is impossible to prove a negative. It is a powerful technique of the political left, placing their enemies on the defensive, and allowing the demagogues to claim the moral high ground while conducting themselves in the most vile manner, in an impressive display of irrationality and bullying. 

Such attacks serve to impoverish the language of discourse, and leave rational people scratching their heads over whether they can talk about the ‘pot calling the kettle black’ or calling a ‘spade an f***ing shovel’. The self-righteous censors thus achieve their object of making discourse on certain topics impossible, and setting boundaries on what people who disagree with them are able to say, right down to the nouns themselves: black, dark, spot . . .

Did I say spot? Yes, I did. Because according to one self-righteously progressive former friend, Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is a racist. In a personal conversation relating to a rather bitter and nasty remark she made toward another of her “friends” in the context of Obama’s second inaugural, “spot” is a racist term. After I allowed as to how the statement was unlike my  former friend’s usual happy and sunny disposition, she commented to me: “‘Methinks the lady doth protest too much.’” To which I responded:
“I don’t think I am ready to “out, out that damned spot.’”  She then enquired about the health of my sense of humor. Seeing that she didn’t really “get” my reference to her quote from Macbeth, I told her I didn’t have a sense of humor, apparently—since my poor attempt was not understood—excused myself and went about my day.
 
Later, I was totally blindsided when, in connection with a different discussion that she initiated, she wrote about the “racist comment” that I had left on her Facebook Timeline. Having already been accused of “protesting too much,” I pointed out that the reference was to Lady Macbeth’s mad scene, and when my former friend insisted it was a racist reference (I suppose about Obama, even though he had not been a topic of the conversation), I did not bother to continue the conversation.

For those who do not know the reference, as I suspect the progressive bully did not, here is the reference from Macbeth, Act 5 Scene I, in which the lady goes mad for having murdered the king:

LADY MACBETH
35 Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why,
36 then, 'tis time to do't.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my
37 lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
38 fear who knows it, when none can call our power
39 to account?—Yet who would have thought the old
40 man to have had so much blood in him?

Doctor
41 Do you mark that?

LADY MACBETH
42 The thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now?—
43 What, will these hands ne'er be clean?—No more o'
44 that, my lord, no more o' that: you mar all with
45 this starting.

The spot she is seeing in her madness is the blood of murder on her hands. My reference was simply an attempt to defuse the rapidly deteriorating conversation by responding to the reference to Lady Macbeth with a reference of my own.  As one of my friends said, upon seeing the exchange between me and my once friendly bully: “Good thing you didn’t refer to Othello. That would have forever blackened your name.” 

The response to this kind of bullying is often self-censorship. The individual so attacked and publicly vilified so unfairly will often begin to think before speaking, to spend time trying to avoid all of the trip-wire words and phrases that might result in another accusation of racism. This is a useless exercise.

Make no mistake about it, the purpose of such tactics is to demonize and isolate anyone with a voice who would oppose the progressive ideology, in order to try to render her ineffective through the art of the smear. It doesn’t matter what words liberty-loving libertarians and conservatives say, the progressive ideologue will twist them or outright lie about their import, diverting attention from the actual topic of conversation into the denouncement of a personal attack. The purpose—overt or covert—is to silence dissent from the statist/collectivist/progressive world view. (For more on this see David Horowitz’s pamphlet, Barack Obama’s Rules for Revolutionaries: The Alinksy Model).

Now here I hasten to add that not everyone who makes the politically correct racist accusation is, in fact, a leftist ideologue. Many are the useful idiots, who buy the moral high-ground without understanding the basis of the tactics involved. Nor do they necessarily aspire to the ultimate goal, although they usually have some inchoate sense of helping to bring about utopia. A sense of being wronged, of being entitled to something someone else has, that they want and have not gotten often fuels such an attitude, as it has in my former friend’s case. She angrily accused me of having “got yours” and of all manner of violent intention and lack of charity now that I had it. None of this has any basis in reality, but it does bespeak anger and resentment improperly directed at me. To put it bluntly, my former friend is playing the politics of envy for her own purposes, and is likely a useful idiot rather than a leftist ideologue.

But whatever the reason for such accusations as this, the purpose is the same: to silence those who disagree and threaten the leftist Vision of the Anointed. And it often works. Ask yourself how often you have bit your tongue rather than respond to some diatribe in a university classroom, how often you have erased a comment after trying to craft it in order not to be misunderstood, and you will begin to recognize how often you may have censored yourself.

Although the progressive left is not above an overt attack on the First Amendment ( and we have already heard the warning shots across the bow), it is far easier to get people to censor themselves rather than to suppress them by external force. The power of social condemnation is great, and many otherwise vocal Americans would rather be silent than to risk it for little purpose. After all, we reason, it is unlikely that my speaking up will change any minds in this place at this time.

I vehemently disagree. Of course, it doesn’t do much good to continue an argument on someone else’s Facebook Timeline, blog or in their home and on their turf. However, in public, whether it be in a college class or PTA meetings, it is important to speak up, peacefully but firmly. Silence can be taken for assent, and we must not give  up our sanction to such unreasonable and downright evil tactics as demonization by accusations of racism.

In her novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s protagonists call this “the sanction of the victim.” This is the ideas that evil in and of itself is powerless and unreasonable, and must not only take from the good to survive, but needs the moral approbation of the victim in order to triumph. By silently accepting an accusation of racism and allowing it to shut us up, we are giving that much more power to false accusation. By apologizing for our principles arrived at rationally, we are allowing unreason and emptiness to take the moral high ground. How then can we complain when that emptiness and meanness brings down all that is creative and productive in our world?

It is also true that if you speak out, it is likely you will soon hear from a number of other people in the room who were thinking the same thing, but frightened to say it, each one feeling alone and isolated, which is just what the irrational accusation was intended to accomplish. Nothing defeats a bully tactic better that straight up, reasoned confrontation that brings principled people together. Hearing others refuse their sanction to patent nonsense encourages good people to speak up. It benefits all people of principle to encourage one another, for the culture wars are nothing less than a battle for our liberty and our civilization. We must fight it with more passion and conviction than our enemies, who take it very seriously indeed.

In my situation with my former friend, I knew it would be fruitless to continue in an “was not, was too” fashion there on her Timeline. I also recognized that we are not and cannot be friends. Friendship requires shared values and mutual respect—a sanction of one another’s goals at some level, and a genuine desire to bring out the best in the other. It is not a mark of friendship to tolerate another’s wrongs or weaknesses, and to accept less than the best in that person. I have known for some time that the shared values I used to enjoy with this friend have disappeared, and that her political ideology precludes any agreement. 

For the longest time, I did not understand why many of my friends and compatriots in the battle for liberty and reason would make announcements such as: “If you voted for Obama, then please unfriend me.” I thought that it was still possible to keep the lines of communication open. It has now dawned on me—too slowly to spare me pain—that there is no communication with those who substitute platitudes for principles and demagoguery for reason, that this is not about the ordinary disagreements of normal American politics, it is a battle between two incompatible world views, one of which will destroy the other.

Now I understand my friends’ actions. I will not tolerate a so-called friend who turns on me and demonize me so readily, because that is not the behavior of a friend. I cannot continue to give my sanction to irrational ravings and untruthful accusations, because I myself will lose my mooring to reality. There can be no compromise on principle, and there can be no surrender of my values without the loss of all that I have learned and all that I hope to accomplish in the future. 

I will not sit idly by while accusations of racism pervert and destroy discourse, silencing the good for the sake of the weak.