About Me

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I write, mostly to keep my head from exploding. It threatens to do that a lot. My blog is the pixelated version of all the voices in my head. I tend to dive into what connects me to God, my community, my family and my doubt. I do a lot of searching, not as much finding. I’m good with that. I have learned, finally, to live comfortably in the gray. In the meantime, I wrestle with God, and my doubt and my joy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#BlogElul 19 - Ask

Before you ask - this is an essay I wrote a few years ago. It had nothing (then) to do with Elul or the High Holidays. It had everything to do with asking questions. Then, and now - it has nothing to do with answers.

Funny, I'm teaching again. Just for a month, because I'm subbing for a teacher who took a slow boat to China. Literally. Ok, it wasn't a boat, but she will be there for three weeks. So, I get to teach. I knew that I missed it; I couldn't have guessed just how much. Last Sunday, my fifth graders and I were having a discussion about God and doubt and struggling (they're my class; of course we were having this discussion) and one of the kids asked - not in that whiny, icky asking that really means "I'm so done with this topic!" but in the marveling, serious, "We're just starting to get to the good stuff" kind of way - he said "Why couldn't God just give us the answers?"

Immediately, another of the kids piped up "But it's the questions that are important. They're the whole point."

Fifth grade, and they get it: it's the asking, because the asking puts you on a path (not even necessarily the right one, but a path nonetheless) that takes you somewhere, carries you somewhere, to another question, and another and another - and all of that asking, all of those questions - they get you close. Closer. Sometimes to an answer, or a partial truth or another question and direction altogether. It's the questions, the asking that matters, because they set us on the path.

A few years ago, I was asking these questions below. You know what? I still am - just as passionately, just as frustrated and curious and riveted. I hope you can join me on this particular path, and maybe shed some light on your questions, your answers.


So, on the first Sunday of the last year that I taught religious school, I challenged my seventh grade students:  "How do you have a conversation with God in the 21st century? Do you even have a conversation at all? How do you come to God when life is good? More, how do you come to God in times of anger or sadness or despair, when all you want to do is curse at God? How do you connect to Judaism?"

Being a fan of symmetry and neatly wrapped boxes, on the last Sunday of the last year that I taught religious school, I asked them: "What is it that connects you?  To Judaism, to God?  Are you connected?  What does it mean, to be a Jew?"

I don't know that I have answers any more now than I did when I started that year.  For that matter,  any more than I did when I lost God, when I was convinced that God had lost me, or any more than when I felt sheltered and carried gently in the palm of God's hand. But I know now, I think, what connects me.  I know, now, what binds me to my faith.

Hooray for me (she said, somewhat dryly) (after all, this is not about me).  But still I ask myself  "Have I done enough? Have I, have we, the community that surrounds and supports these questing, growing, questioning minds--- have we given them enough, to anchor them in their doubt and disbelief, to strengthen them in their journey to adulthood? Will they, too, become Jews by choice?"

I look at my son, who, at thirteen,  is right there: a jumble of belief and doubt and cynicism and hope, so ready to believe, so fearful of his honest disbelief.  What can I give him, that he will choose to be a Jew?  Around and around I go, on a merry-go-round of ask-and-answer.  And every so often, I'm lucky enough to stop long enough to hear enough from others who ride their own merry-go-rounds of hope and doubt and faith and love.

It lets me know, if nothing else, that I'm asking the right questions.  At least, that we are all asking a lot of the same questions.  And we're finding some... if not answers, then at least a little bit of clarity.  And so I can say: what does it take to be enough?  And I can start to hear the tin calliope merry-go-round music of an answer coming back to me:

It's about passion, I think.  My passion.  Our passion.  The passion and joy and exuberance of being Jewish: of study and community and service and prayer and family and God.  It's choosing and being engaged in the choice.  It's mindful and sometimes hard and sometimes frustrating and always, always--- it is ok to be passionate.  It's good to find the wonder and sense the awe of who we are and where we fit.  Judaism can be an intellectual pursuit.  But it is so much more; can be so much more.  If we allow it.  If we let it.  How can we not show that?  How can we not share that?

But wait-- there's more (she said with a cockeyed smile).  It's also about obligation.  We spend so much time sheltering our young, of giving and teaching and doing for them, we don't always remember to teach them their obligation to us, their community.  We don't always show them that there is as much joy, as much passion in obligation and service outwards as there is in being served.  God has taught us that lesson well: we are commanded to serve, we are bound by our obligations one to another, to our community and to God. It is that obligation that helps give us all a framework of connection that can transcend doubt or disbelief.

Passion.  Obligation.  Joy.  God.  Beginning the conversation.  Being caught in the act-- of choosing, every day, to be a Jew.  What else, what else, what else?  What am I missing?  What are we missing?  I don't know it all, not by a long shot.  But I've learned that there are those who can fill in the blanks, if I ask. There are those who can help me find the questions, if I listen.

So-- I'm listening. I'm asking.  Is it enough?  Is there joy enough, wonder enough to bridge the doubt?  What connects us?  What will bind us, one to another and to God?  What words do I give to my son, so that he can find his own way to choose, every day, to be a Jew?

And finally, I offer a small prayer of my own: that we can all listen in wonder, ask in joy, choose in faith, dance with God.  Amen.

Note:  This essay  was written in conjunction with my earlier essay "Jew by Choice."  Here, as in my previous essay, I am attempting to answer, for me, just what it means to be Jewish, just how it is that we can connect to our faith, our community.  Most, I hope to find some answers to just how I can teach this to my son, pass it on so that he can find and foster that connection himself.  It is my hope that this essay will serve as a springboard for a dialog, so that we all learn from each other.  I may not have all the answers, and I'm certainly learning a lot of questions.  I am hoping you all can help shine a light for us all.