Finally, Some Art

Not mine, so is that cheating? If lately you think I've become more acerbic, maybe it's because Z & I have been watching lots of episodes of "House." We just finished Season Two and started Season Three. Which is appropriate to the above drawing, as it is C's rendition of my late father-in-
law, who was a physician (neurologist) and, during the later stages of his battle with cancer, walked with a cane. Other than that, he had nothing in common with Gregory House, as Doug was quite a pleasant person. Lovely drawing, and I should have had it up here long ago.
The angels are by Z, one of the projects for last semester's 2-Dimensional Design class. Very nice, but it drove her nuts to do it. I find that the sky makes the most sense to me when I distance myself from it; up close it's a bit confusing to me. I love the colors.
And from the lowest-altitude parishioner, a wet-felted earthsnake, which took a long time to make (according to low-altitude parishioner time-frame, anyway) and is quite charming.

From me? Nada. Neither the time nor the psychic energy to do art. I have, however, made significant progress on my dream of holding an all-day religion workshop on campus, and even have a date: April 11. Next up: ascertaining whether or not the speakers who signed on can actually make it that day, and finding speakers for the still-open slots. The devil is in the details which, for a religion workshop, is a non-trivial consideration.



Ways of Looking at Religions

There are a number of ways in which to classify religions, if you like doing such things - which I do, being as how that's my "thing." One way is into "faith-based" and "action-based" - that is, defining one's "-ism" by what one believes, or by what one practices.

I'll give you an example. All it takes to become a Muslim is to recite the Shahadah ("Allah is One and Muhammad is His Prophet"), with utter belief and certainty, before a particular number of witnesses. Then POOF! you're a Muslim.

Islam is a faith-based religion.

To become a Jew, on the other hand, is somewhat more complicated. Either you have to be born to a Jewish woman, in which case you're always Jewish (see my earlier post, with the caveat that some denominations may quibble about Good Jews and Bad Jews), or you have to go through quite a rigorous process that involves doing things. And it doesn't so much matter what you believe - it's how you live your life that counts.

Judaism is an action-based religion.

So today
one of my students (an atheist) commented that Cargo Cults are not religions because they aren't "faith based." I pointed out that a) they ARE faith-based and b) some religions (like Judaism) ARE NOT faith-based. He said yes, Judaism IS faith-based. I said no, it's not, it's action-based, and anyway - what about atheistic Jews? He said they're not Jews. I said gee, they'd be awfully surprised to hear that, since they consider themselves to be so. Because I haven't yet gone over the difference between faith-based and action-based, he didn't get it - the only concession he was willing to make was between "faith-based" and "blind-faith based." ooookay, he doesn't have a very large ax to grind!

There are plenty of other ways of classifying religions (or anything else, for that matter - I am a relativist about almost everything, which can drive my family nuts). I learned a completely new way today, though. After class, another student came up to me and said he pretty much knows the material already, but he's taking the class for an unusual reason. Organized religion, he said, really makes him angry. One of his parents is Jewish and the other is Catholic, and he went to Catholic school, which he told me was a traumatic experience (I know there are some of you out there who will identify with this!). So after he graduated, he went to his Jewish roots, but that just made him mad, too. He made the rounds of various religions, but they all made him mad. (Bear in mind that he seems like a very nice, mild-mannered fellow, but I know that's what was said about Dahmer, too.)

So I suggested that he go to the Blue Mountain Zendo, because hey, who ever heard of getting mad at a Buddhist? He said oh, what a good idea, and anyway, Buddhism's not a religion, and he's only mad at religions.

So - new way to classify religions: those that piss me off, and those that don't. It actually works incredibly well for me, as there really are some that get my knickers in a twist the minute I think of them (it's so hard to teach them that I always look for guest lecturers!), while there are others that I find quite calming.

I like to think that I learn something from my students every day.

Oh, and I already have pegged the student who will do every single assignment the wrong way. He's already done the first one wrong, and that one was just to send me an email from his college email address.



Bear Hats

Oh if I were a bear (and a big bear, too),
I wouldn't much care if it froze or snew . . .

But it IS freezing, though it's not snewing (yet), and our furnace is NOT happy, and that makes me rather wish I were a bear.

Just got copied on an email for Z from the head of the Black Rose Tellers, that tomorrow they are to bring their "bear hats" so they can practice for the Teddy Bear Party they're holding for the smalls next month at the library. "Bear Hats???" I emailed back. "Of course, hats worn by bears!" was the reply, followed by "no no no, hats with bear ears, what did you think? Apparently, there's been a typical lack of communication twixt teens & parents."

If I'm expected to make a bear hat by tomorrow night's meeting, I will be feeling even more bearish. I doubt my sewing machine will work at these sub-zero temps - I know my fingers can bear(heh)ly type.

Click on the title to see what came up when I googled "bear hats" & hit "I'm feeling lucky." I esp. like the one with the hole for the pony tail.

~N-n-n-n-am-m-mast-t-t-te (brrrr)


Monsters in the House

"DAD! Quick, come up, there's a huge centipede!"

Wrong thing to say. You can call on R in almost any emergency, but he does NOT do centipedes.

Both girls were upstairs, having taken a shower, and were in a panic, towels wrapped around themselves, screaming their heads off. R's response?

"Uh, he's gone out for a walk, sorry."

I went upstairs, shoe in hand, and encountered something like this:
Okay, so it was only about 2" long & didn't have the head of a dragon, but you get the idea. I don't particularly care for the things, but they don't bother me nearly as much as they bother the rest of the crew. I smashed it & it actually sprayed everywhere, which was pretty spectacular.

Once he realized that all the ruckus was over, R came up to "save the day." And was appalled by the mess.

Did anyone call me "hero" or fawn over me? No. I'm just the mom, so I guess this kind of thing is my job. And now N is using this as her latest excuse not to go to bed because she's afraid of another centipede "attack."

Psi. I suppose, as a good Buddhist, I should have scooped the poor thing up & set it down outside. This is one of the advantages of being a mutant instead of a purebred. I can rationalize my way out of certain rules.




I don't know why that post looks like a rant, but the whole thing turned into a huge font & I could not for the life of me change it.

Maybe Auslander is right.



It's the beginning of the semester (almost - as of the 21st, anyway) and once again, I am dodging questions from my students as to my religious identity. It's not surprising that they are curious; after all, I'm asking them to tell me theirs (the first assignment is to take the belief-o-matic quiz and comment on the results). But I like keeping mine a secret till the end of the course. For one thing, it allows me to pretend, as I present each religion in turn, that it is my own, offering it up as The Most Reasonable, Attractive Religious Alternative There Is so that the students will be less likely to look on it as FOREIGN or WEIRD. For another, I want all my students to feel equally comfortable (or uncomfortable) with me, which they won't if they find out that I was raised as a Jew (and therefore will always, despite my best efforts to the contrary, BE a Jew), chose Confucianism (it being the religion closest to Judaism that I could find without actually being Judaism), and got sucked into Buddhism against my will simply because it makes more sense than any other religion I've encountered.

You think these don't mix well? Look at this - and this - and it was my Mandarin professor and my next-door-neighbor in Hsinchu who taught me about the similarities between Judaism and Confucianism, but if you want genuine www evidence, see here and here as well. And then there are all those clever Jewish haiku, which technically point to Shinto but let's not get technical.

Yet another reason for not coming out of the closet to my students right off the bat: in the beginning, they don't know from Buddhism or Confucianism ("Confrushus say, rucky man have rots of sons"), nor have they any idea how one might hold more than one belief system simultaneously. By the end of the semester, those who have managed to get an A in the class have figured this out, so they can handle the information.

I just finished Shalom Auslander's inspired memoir, Foreskin's Lament. Coming on the heels of a couple of conversations with my friend J, it has screwed me up more than I can say, which is what a really good book about religion always does to me, and which I welcome. I'd never really envisioned God as hanging around waiting to give me a good zetz, so this is certainly a new one to mull over.

It's a very funny book; also a scary one. I always knew religion could mess people up pretty badly, but I'd never seen it from the Jewish side before. Next I want to read the memoir of a Buddhist kid whose parents went overboard with religion. Now that would be something, wouldn't it?



Funny how having a friend die at the age of 48 has made me not mind at all the fact that I'll be turning fifty this year. It seemed a fearsome thing only a few months ago. Now? Something to be thankful for.

Karen didn't even quite make it to her 49th birthday - just a few weeks short of it, in fact. This is something that matters, since birthdays have always been a big deal to me, a chance for everyone to say "gee, we're awfully glad you are in the world with us."

Her memorial service last weekend was exactly that. People gathered from all over the country to share their memories of her, and to tell each other why we were glad she'd been in the world. She wasn't perfect; I didn't share any of my (few) negative memories of her (of course I do have some - and I cherish her all the more for being human and fallible). Nor did I share all of my positive memories - and I have a great many of those. I loved listening to others' stories about her. It was nice to hear about periods in her life in which I did not know her at all.

I like to think of the memorial service as having been the 49th birthday party she didn't get to have. She was one of the kindest people I ever knew, and I'll bet that her ability to put herself in someone else's shoes was one of the reasons she was not only a good dancer but a very effective dance therapist. I hope she was able to attend the party and see just how much we all appreciated her.



Happy New Year!

As you will see if you click on the title link, 2008 is a leap year. For some reason, probably having to do with N's proclivity for leaping about, this makes me nervous.

The first book I've read this year (today) is Gene Luen Yang's
American Born Chinese. Yet another graphic novel, I know! Brace yourselves, because I've got quite a pile more to go through this year. This one will be the best of the lot, though, I'm sure of it. I've been wanting to read it for some time now, and it is every bit as good as the reviews all said it was. C made a face when he saw me reading it; he doesn't want to read it because he's very unhappy about living it right now. Z, however, does want to read it, and I think she'll enjoy it for the same reason he won't.

Yang interweaves the tales of the Monkey King and a horrible stereotype named "cousin Chin-kee" with his protagonist Jin, a boy whose family has just moved from San Francisco to the wilds of suburbia where he is one of only two Asian Americans in the entire school. Some of the book is laugh-out-loud funny, some is incredibly painful (particularly as I've seen my own children suffer through similar situations) and every bit of it is absolutely true.

American Born Chinese was a 2006 National Book Award finalist. I hope a great many people read it. I also hope a great many libraries purchase it. Anyone who has not been a member of a visibly identifiable minority needs to have some idea of just what that really means.

On a lighter note: my brother-in-law's family gifted us with red and green compact fluorescent light bulbs for Christmas (as well as a box of the regular sort), and we've been having fun with them. After briefly considering putting a red one in as our porch light, R installed all three of the red ones in our downstairs bathroom. The result looks like we might well be the sort of establishment that has a red light on the porch:
N says it looks like a demon bathroom. At any rate, it's quite fun!
I began the day with a 2 mile walk, which I'm hoping to be able to do on a regular basis. We'll see how that goes . . . .

Happy New Year from Syzygy House!