Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Jesus I Want to Know

The ideas, the universal, perhaps metaphysical ideas, images, symbols, thoughts, myths – all of the abstract phenomena that represent universal thought are patterned after something. They are an imitation, a representation of something that already exists… in our minds and ‘out there’ somewhere. And these theories of super-consciousness, un-consciousness, consciousness, while in many respects are hard to discount i.e. if something empirically exists one can hardly dismiss the validity of that something, I keep getting a sense that they complicate a very simple yet vital fact. A very important factor that is sometimes obscured in all of this universal thinking is the individual, or what is the personal-ness of the individual.

We are individual, personal beings and we cannot function properly, or I should say we cannot function optimally without connection to other individual, personal beings. We need to love and be loved, we need to know and be known, we need to feel joy and pain and we need to feel the joy and pain of others. Our joy and pain, all of our feelings serve nothing, come to nothing but suffering in the absence of another. And somehow the universal ‘stories’ of the hero’s journey through life, salvation, redemption, death and rebirth, all of these concepts come to nothing unless they are shared with another. To be sure it is a universal truth that no man is an island.

I have come to the conclusion that I want Jesus to be real. Lately I find myself questioning if he was, not so much whether a man named Jesus actually existed in the flesh – that part is easy to accept. It is the part that says that Jesus was God incarnate as human being, as one of us. But this much I know, I desperately want him to be who the Gospels claim he was. Because it is God as man, divine in human form that tells me that God knows us, that God understands our struggle as human beings and not-God. That he knows the pleasure and pain of humanity that is endured daily and moment by moment for so many. In Jesus is represented the God that we need, the God that must be in order that we have hope for something more. In Jesus we see kindness and gentleness, love and forgiveness, the power to heal and the promise of so much more beyond the harsh realities of our existence in this life.

This is why I want Jesus to be real and I know that there probably will not be any definitive answers provided to me as confirmation of my wanting and sometimes I don’t understand that. But I also know that in the acknowledgement of these things, in the realizing of my desire for this to be so I may also be stating the reality. I may be recognizing the pattern, the basic structure that has been there from the beginning.

I think it safe to say that Jesus is everything we human beings need him to be.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The American Dream

So I’m sitting on my deck the other day looking out over my yard - I have a comfortable (not big) home with a two car garage on an acre of land – and I’m thinking to myself what is so damn appealing about the American Dream? I have a mortgage, property taxes, when the roof needs fixing it costs thousands, when the water pump goes it costs thousands, when it rains too much for too long we’re in the basement bailing out water, the oil bill is killer, the electricity bill goes up every month and if the septic system ever lets go we’re screwed. The amount of money that one spends to own a home over the life of their tenure in that home is mind-boggling. And some day, which truthfully could be tomorrow I could be dead and then what? Who the hell is going to care about the damn septic system? Not me that’s for sure.

I want to know who in the hell thought this was a good idea. Why do we think we need this? I could rent an apartment for a couple hundred more each month than my mortgage and tax bill combined and I’d be done. No worries about roofs or septic systems or water in the basement. I wouldn’t have to shovel the driveway in the winter and when it needs to be resurfaced it’s somebody else’s problem. And when I drop dead somebody else will move in and nobody is going to know the difference.

It occurred to me several years ago when the stock market started to tank, and continued to tank monthly that I had been socking all of this money away for years for a retirement that is still many years away and in one short year every gain that I had made was wiped out. Twenty years of savings cut by at least a third just like that. And so was I to believe that now I cannot retire? Or that I’m going to end up in the streets someday? What if I get sick? What if I live to a hundred? Let’s face it, who is the average person who can afford to live to a hundred? That’s too damn long unless you have some kick-ass retirement fund that somehow managed to survive the latest purge. I might as well drive down the highway at eighty miles an hour and throw my money out the window. Same difference as investing in a retirement stock fund. All those years when I still had years until retirement all the experts told me to invest in higher-risk, higher yield funds. You’re young, you have time, don’t be so conservative. And I listened, what the hell did I know? And in practically one day so much of it was gone. It is a total crapshoot and the thing that really gets me is that all of these supposed experts, Harvard MBA economists, they’re guessing right along with everyone else. How many Harvard MBAs have we heard on CNN over the past eighteen months each telling us something different?

But the real kicker is that I could spend the next fifteen years saving my ass off for retirement, finally retire and then drop dead without ever having spent a dime of all that savings. I’m going to work like a dog, deny myself a trip to Paris, multiple trips to Paris because I MIGHT one day need to pay for a nursing home?

Seriously, let me ask this again. Whose idea was this?

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Smart Am I

So I’m watching CNN last night with my husband and they’re doing a segment on global warming. Is it or isn’t it? That is the question. Anyway the dude that’s reporting is speaking to a scientist, a geo-physicist whose name escapes me and this geo-physicist is explaining his solutions for the problem of global warming. As he’s talking away I find that I’m not listening to him at all because my husband and I start into another conversation about intelligence. Seems this geo-physicist entered college at fourteen years of age, attained his Ph. D by twenty-three and now, for the past thirty years or more has performed all of the necessary duties of becoming a pre-eminent geo-physicist. Clearly a really smart guy.

And so I get to thinking… is this person really smarter than me? Actually let’s back up a step so I can admit that I don’t even know what the hell a geo-physicist is. What is the definition of a geo-physicist? I don’t know.

Anyway, does the fact that this person entered college at fourteen mean that he’s smarter than me? His head is normal size and therefore one could reasonably assume that his brain is normal size i.e. no bigger than the average six foot tall male. Should I assume because of his academic credentials that he is actually smarter than me, that when God was handing out brains he injected this gentleman with more of the intelligence chemical while perhaps giving me more of the athletic or artistic chemical to balance things out? I don’t know. Can this geo-physicist catch a football or run a sub-minute mile or ski moguls in addition to knowing what are the relevant factors when formulating a solution to global warming? Maybe he came up with the solution while participating in the IronMan Triathalon.

Could I have, if I had found that one thing that really struck my fancy, could I have had the ability to enter college at fourteen and succeed? If I had had the requisite interest in something, along with the requisite determination and persistence and thirst for knowledge did I have the smarts kick ass academically? Again, I don’t know.

So the question comes down to this: are we all, us average human beings, are we all generally endowed with the same level of intellectual potential? Is it there, lying dormant waiting for us to tap into it, either choosing to use it or not?

I think a lot about potential these days. How much do we have? Far more than I think anyone of us might suspect but beyond that how do we tap into our potential? How do we discover what riches lie deep within us for intellectual, artistic, athletic achievement?

I do not know the answer to this question.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Art of Listening

Someday I will remember that when somebody talks to me, when somebody has something on their mind and chooses to come to me with it that I must listen. No… I mean really listen. Close my mouth and L.I.S.T.E.N.

Start thinking about what I think
Start offering solutions
Start offering the other side of the story
Try to fix it
Try to minimize it
Make a joke
Change the subject

Just... listen. Listen to what is being said, keeping in mind that sometimes merely being allowed the space to say what is on one’s mind is worth everything.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dear Tiger Part Deux

We, that is western society have held you to impossible standards. Because of your superior golf abilities we placed you on a level above the rest of us and in doing so we raised our expectations of you. We took the liberty of deciding that just because you could put a little ball into a little cup with a skill that most of us would-be duffers only dream about that somehow you are superior to us. And with that ascension came our elevated expectations.

And with our elevated expectations came elevated levels of pressure down on your head because we take these expectations of our world at large, and to be sure your world is larger than most, and we make them our own. It is so very hard when everyone around you is telling you how great you are to feel like you don’t have to live up to those expectations and so you spend your life striving to do so. And it is so very hard and takes always so much energy to live a life that becomes unconsciously all about meeting those expectations. It is hard when others expect things of us, things they don’t see in themselves, things they would like to see in themselves. They see them in you, they tell you how fortunate you are to possess those qualities, how envious they are of you and you have no choice but to believe them. So year after year after year you try to live up to those expectations all the while staggering under the weight of the effort it takes to do so.

I was a little hard on you in my first letter and I would like to take this opportunity to soften my stance a bit. While I stand by my assertion that you should have immediately and simply come clean, it might have lightened the press coverage just a hair, it is clear to me that a young man like you who was probably raised to be a decent person is somehow crumbling under the weight of our expectations and for this I can only apologize.

To Mrs. Tiger I would like to say please don’t listen to all the people around you who are telling you what a lying, cheating, evil, SOB your husband is. I know you are probably hurt very deeply by his actions but if you love him allow yourself the opportunity to come to an understanding of why he felt the need to do this. I guarantee you that while doing so will be immensely difficult you will also find out that he is probably not the over-sexed, uncaring louse he appears to be, or rather that we all, in our knee-jerk reactions to marital infidelity insist that he is.



Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Thoughts

Every year my husband and I go to lunch at the diner down the street before we perform the annual rite that is the buying of the Christmas tree. Every year he wants to go buy the tree first – “let’s get it over with” says he - and then go have lunch but I insist that it must be the other way around. After having been with this man for more years than I care to acknowledge (for no other reason than not wanting to stare in the face my rapidly advancing age) I have learned at least one thing about him. I have learned that any time we embark on something that might cause him distress (sadly buying a Christmas tree holds that potential) it is always, ALWAYS better that he embark on a full stomach. Never take a man shopping for a Christmas tree on an empty stomach because let’s face it, in light of the fact that I am going to drag him all over the entire lot, up and down every aisle of trees pulling out each one, spinning it, shaking it out, and putting it back his endurance will be much higher if he’s working on a full stomach. Gives me a wider berth to take my time picking out the perfect tree… as if.


My grandmother died last week. She would have been 98 this coming Saturday. Four of my brothers and sisters and me drove to New Jersey for her funeral. It was just the five of us, the rabbi and the funeral director. All of her friends are long dead, my grandfather died six years ago, also a mere two weeks shy of his 98th birthday. The guys who dug her grave threw all of the dirt onto my grandfather’s grave so we couldn’t even see his headstone. Don’t you think it might occur to them that the family members who will be attending the service might want to oh I don’t know at least pretend that it matters that their grandfather is lying under all that dirt. Apparently not.

Something interesting about a Jewish burial ceremony, they place the casket over the grave and gently lower it down into the hole while everyone is standing there. I had to turn away when they did this. For some reason I could not watch that. All I could think about was that it was bad enough that my grandmother was being lowered into the mud, I could not imagine how I might feel if it was my child. I think I probably would have had to throw up. I was left with an oddly unsatisfied feeling walking away from that cemetery.


I went to church this morning and for some reason I felt very agitated. I attend the local Catholic parish here in town, not with any regularity but when the mood strikes me. I like to go during the Christmas season because the choir is terrific and the church is decorated beautifully and I just like the whole ambiance. You can say what you want about Catholicism but they know how to do mystery and they know how to do solemn and they know how to do quiet reflection like no other. A Catholic church is a great place to go when you need some solitude. It is one of the few places you can be alone without actually being alone and it’s ok.

I cannot quite put my finger on it but there are times when I feel drawn to this church. I have no explanation for it. I am not particularly possessed of the Catholic doctrine in fact I frequently disagree with their interpretation of scripture – quite frankly I’m not all that sure about the validity of scripture anymore as ‘the’ word of God - but there is something about the Catholic faith or perhaps it is nothing more than being in a Catholic church that speaks to me. I think the smell of the incense, the sound of the choir, the whole visual effect probably ignites all sorts of unconscious stirrings of childhood. That would be the psychological explanation. Whatever. I go because I like to go and because the sound of the choir moves me. Today it annoyed me. The priest annoyed me, the people in the pew annoyed me, the choir was mediocre and the service lasted too damn long.


I seem to be losing my religion, not that I really ever had any to begin with. Baptized Catholic, attended church every Sunday, every holy day, confession, communion, confirmation, the whole shebang. Not my choice of course but coercion. Parents are good at that. I would have remained happily, blissfully and ignorantly pagan. I was Catholic but I had no idea what that really meant and no inclination for many years to try to figure out what it meant. It was, I would say, an uninterested acceptance… Jesus, Mary, sin, our father… whatever.

Funny thing is that at this moment in my life I am more sure of the existence of God than I have ever been before, which to be sure I never was at all. It is all the rest of it that has been completely blown out of the water for me. And on the one hand my confusion has (oddly enough) taken some of the ‘good’ mystery out of attending church while at the same time causing me to be completely and utterly mystified by the whole thing.

I read in a prologue to St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul the following:

“The constant and simultaneous succession and recurrence of certain distinct yet similar phenomena, taking place in all centuries and in all races, might lead us to the conclusion (in the lack of other positive knowledge) that behind all Form, Dogma, Ritual and Ceremonial, there is hidden and profound and mysterious meaning which constitutes the Root Religion, whence as from a spring or fountain head all others had their rise; and this Root Religion cannot have been other than the close and intimate communication of man with the Universal Soul-the Body Soul-the Suchness, the Becoming, the Divinity, give it what name you will; so that so far from having gradually evolved into intellectual light through a scale of beings inferior to him, as the evolutionist maintains, he would rather seem to have begun as the inhabitant of a higher sphere, to boast a celestial genealogy.”

In other words the one true ideal, the root that all of our religions spring forth from is our original union with God and that we did not start out as specks of single-celled, mindless, formless ‘things’ in some puddle of mud or radioactive chemical but rather we were with God. This I actually believe to be true. Beyond that I’ve got nothing.
I've decided that it's true... everyone DOES need therapy. If for no other reason than it might help them to stop annoying the hell out of me. Just kidding. (not really).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dear Tiger Woods

So Tiger Woods says:

“I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.”

We certainly don’t have to be told that Tiger is far short of perfect since we are ALL far short of perfect. I get that and so with that in mind and for just one freaking time here is what I’d like to hear one of these celebrities-caught-in-multi-year-indiscretion say:

I knew the entire time that I was involved with these women/men/call girls/call boys/dogs/cats/horses/etc. that I was letting my family down and I chose to do it anyway. Clearly in light of that glaring truth my behavior was exactly in line and congruent with my true values which are much lower than the general public would like to believe. The only reason that I regret those transgressions with all my heart is that I got caught and now the paparazzi are camped out on my front lawn and I can’t even leave the house and I have endangered all of my multi-million dollar endorsement contracts and my wife keeps hitting me in the face with my nine iron. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect and because of that I’m not going to hand any of my adoring fans any bullshit about having high standards for myself when clearly I chose to violate those mythical standards repeatedly. “

Dear Tiger,

We’d respect you a lot more and forgive you a lot quicker (assuming you give a rat’s ass about the public’s forgiveness which I doubt) if you’d ix-nay on the bullshit-ay. We’ve all screwed up a time or two or twenty. Nobody gives a damn if you’re sorry… nobody believes you anyway so why bother?

Lay low, tell the truth (or shut it) and I'm sure this will all blow over and we'll all still be cheering for you at next year's Masters.

Warm Regards,