To My Daughter, Hannah, on Becoming a Bat Mitzvah
Oct14

To My Daughter, Hannah, on Becoming a Bat Mitzvah

Hannah, I will start by telling you how proud I am that you are up here on the bimah leading the congregation this weekend. I know you are not fond of speaking in front of a large group of people, and certainly, I know that you would rather do anything other than sing out loud. I’ve watched you lip sync in school performances for years, and today, there was no lip syncing. No, it was definitely your voice – the voice of my confident, strong, and beautiful daughter – leading us in prayer. You are now a Bat Mitzvah, a Daughter of the Commandment. I am sure in the course of your Jewish learning, your teachers have told you what it is supposed to mean when you become a Bat Mitzvah. You now have new religious privileges along with some additional responsibilities. Becoming a Bat Mitzvah is not the end of your Jewish learning, rather, it’s the beginning of your study as a Jewish adult. Your aunt Kathleen sent some words for you today that I want to read. She wrote, “There is a well-known story about the great Jewish sage, Hillel in The Talmud. Hillel was asked by a fellow sage – who was known for being quite temperamental – to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel replied, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.’ For my niece Hannah on her Bat Mitzvah, I wish for her to welcome Torah learning into her life so that she may realize Ha’shem’s purpose for her is to rise higher and let her Divine spark illuminate all that surrounds her.” Last night, Rabbi Meiri talked about the Torah being the blueprint for the creation of the world. And, if we take Hillel’s words seriously, that means the entire Torah is really about how we treat our neighbors. Personally, I think using that concept as a blueprint for the world would not be such a bad idea. One of your strengths is how you treat your neighbors. Indeed, your service project – collecting supplies for homeless women through the Asheville Period Project – is all about treating your neighbors with dignity. I’ve watched you wipe tables, mop floors, and even scrub toilets to help provide your neighbors without homes the same sort of world that you enjoy. There is no doubt that you have already practiced being a good neighbor. You have some idea of what you don’t like about this world and perhaps an inkling of what you’d...

Read More
Words of Christ in Red: Forgiveness and the Search for Community
Dec26

Words of Christ in Red: Forgiveness and the Search for Community

And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25 I didn’t know until I saw the headline. “Man who lost family in Gatlinburg fire pens open letter forgiving arson suspects.” My heart sank. They were dead. I was hoping Michael Reed would find his wife and daughters alive, but as the days went on, I knew that was more and more unlikely. I read the article, which quoted the letter that Michael Reed had written to the two teenage suspects. “We will pray for you. Every day. We will pray for your parents and your family members. Every day. We will pray for your peace. We will show you grace. Why? Because that’s what Jesus would do.” That’s what Jesus would do. I was angry. I was angry with the Christian idea of forgiveness. Why should this man have to forgive? His wife and his daughters were dead. Dead. Three lives lost. I could feel the anger boiling up inside of me, and I opened my mouth and let it spill out. Nick listened, and then he told me I was wrong. What kind of world did I want to live in? Did I want to live in a world of human vengeance and vigilante justice? This was exactly why the concept of Jesus was good. Humans fail again and again at keeping themselves in line. Maybe having a supernatural power to help us forgive each other and not engage in revenge killings wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe. I could see how in this case – in THIS case – forgiveness might make sense. The teenagers didn’t intend to kill anyone. They were hiking and playing with matches. They were stupid, but were they murderers? I didn’t think so. It was an accident. But, what about in other cases? I thought of a terribly made movie from 20 years ago, Eye for an Eye with Sally Field and Kiefer Sutherland. Field’s character killed the man who raped and murdered her daughter. Why should a mother have to forgive her daughter’s rapist and murderer? She shouldn’t! When I saw the movie, I was glad he was dead. Justice and not forgiveness! “Listen to yourself,” Nick said. “You cannot have people exacting their own justice.” “Rationally, sure, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t want a world like that. But, I know if that happened to Hannah, then I would want revenge....

Read More
It’s Gonna Be A Great Day! Amen!
Apr17

It’s Gonna Be A Great Day! Amen!

“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” – Isaiah 58:10 The alarm beeped at me at 6:27 am. I don’t like setting the alarm for round numbers. Threes and sevens are good. Zeroes and fives are bad. I’d already set up the coffee pot last night, so I rolled out of bed and turned it on. I took a quick shower, threw on my workout clothes from yesterday, put my hair into a pineapple bun, and poured two cups of coffee. By the time I walked back to the bedroom with the coffee, Nick was dressed. I chugged my coffee and poured another. Nick passed on the second cup because he likes to sip his coffee. And, we were out the door. “Brr, it’s chilly!” The thermometer in my car read 38 degrees. That number was not lost on me. I turned on the heat and flipped the switch for the heated seats in my car. We drove to the tiny parking lot and headed down the sidewalk to the homeless day shelter. A crowd was outside waiting for the doors to open at 8:00 am. As we walked toward the building, one of the men said, “Good morning. How you doin’?” Nick said, “I’m good. How are you?” “I’m good considering the circumstances.” Considering the circumstances. I stood at the front desk. Even though I’m only there once a month, I consider the front desk my spot. Some volunteers like to sort mail, but not me. I get to talk to people at the front desk. The front door opened, and everyone outside lined up to sign in. The first few people inside came immediately to the front desk. There are two showers in the men’s bathroom and only one in the women’s. The requests came fast and furious. “Can I get a towel and soap? And shampoo. A razor also.” “Can I get some ibuprofen?” “Mucinex.” “Do you have vitamins?” “A ziploc bag.” “Do you have any deodorant?” “Socks.” “A rubber band.” “Socks.” “Do you have a piece of tape?” “Socks.” We were out of white tube socks by 9:00 am. I wrote “socks” on my list. Every time I volunteer, I make a list of things to bring next time. Today’s list read: socks, washcloths, shaving cream, apples. I like to stand at the front desk because of the women. If I’m there, they will motion to me specifically and whisper to ask if they can get a pad and...

Read More
I Could Have Walked, But It Was Cold: In Memory Of Those Who Died Without Homes
Dec22

I Could Have Walked, But It Was Cold: In Memory Of Those Who Died Without Homes

I could have walked, but it was cold. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but on Saturday morning, the wintry wind whistled through the trees and my single-pane windows cracked and shook as if in pain. I heard noise from the house next door and realized they were having a yard sale in the 28 degree weather. I watched a few cars pulled up to examine the two small tables of items. I knew they were out there in the cold selling random household crap in order to have money for Christmas presents. I looked at my own front yard and laughed. We weren’t having a yard sale, but with the four bent barbells, exercise bike, stall mats, and assortment of storage containers sitting in the grass and on the porch, a random passerby might certainly think otherwise. The two Bernie 2016 signs in the yard fought valiantly to stay upright in the frigid wind. Fortunately, this is not the kind of neighborhood where people complain when your yard isn’t mowed or if the new trim on your house doesn’t mesh well with the landscaping. I watched Chocolate and Rico, two canine partners in crime, walk down the street. Rico stopped to look at me and yip. Chocolate scratched his butt on the asphalt. I think of them as the neighborhood mascots. Last Christmas, they went running up and down the street dressed in Santa outfits, but today they were unclothed. “Go home!” I yelled and pointed. Rico yipped loudly. “Go home!” He gave one more yip and then headed toward his house. Chocolate was still rubbing his butt in the street. I’m always surprised that they haven’t been killed by a car yet. When I moved into this house three years ago, an acquaintance told me I was moving into “the ghetto.” I guess the public housing two doors down spooked her. Could it have been the simple fact that this neighborhood is actually racially integrated? Or was it because I don’t have a dishwasher or a garbage disposal or air conditioning? My washer and dryer are next to my refrigerator, and the kitchen lacks granite counter tops and shiny stainless steel appliances. But, I have a house with a roof and running water and heat. The walls have chalkboards and whiteboards, and there are books in every corner. My kids can do gymnastics on the mats in the front yard, climb our lone tree, and shoot baskets with their friends. When my daughter walks out the door to have a sleepover at the neighbor’s house, my only real concern is the black bear that frequents the trash cans on our block. Not long after I...

Read More
Of Tantrums And Depression: How A Load Of Laundry Can Change Your Life
Oct08

Of Tantrums And Depression: How A Load Of Laundry Can Change Your Life

“So wake me up when it’s all over When I’m wiser and I’m older All this time I was finding myself, and I Didn’t know I was lost” – Avicii A few months ago, my 6 year old son had a tantrum that I figured would be one of those stories that I might tell when he got older. Twenty years from now, I would say, “Remember that time you wouldn’t open the dryer door?” I’d tell the story, and we’d all laugh about how ridiculous it was for him to have a tantrum over something so small. In fact, the tantrum happened just like that. He came to ask me where a particular pair of pants or a shirt was. I said, “It’s probably in the dryer. Just open the dryer door.” What happened next probably won’t shock anyone who has children, although I cannot say I saw it coming at the time. He refused to open the dryer door. I mean, he was literally standing in front of the dryer. His hand was a foot away from the handle and he wouldn’t open it. He wanted me to do it for some reason, and when I refused, it escalated to the point where he was screaming and sobbing all while standing next to the dryer door. He ended up on the floor crying hysterically for more than 20 minutes. And, the dryer door was in reach the entire time. As adults, we read this story and think, “Well, I would never do that. The solution was right in front of him. All he had to was put his hand on the handle and pull. Of course, I would open the dryer door.” But, we don’t. We have all been in that situation at least once in our lives. We’ve all refused to open our particular dryer door, and in some cases, we’ve denied the very existence of the handle despite all evidence to the contrary. Perhaps some of you don’t recognize what your unique load of laundry is yet, but I do. For much of my adult life, I’ve struggled with depression, and until recently, I never opened the dryer door. I’ve contemplated writing about this a lot in the last several months. In fact, I finally got my blog off the ground so that I could write about my mental journey, even though it was under the guise of lifting weights. Somehow, if you talk about how lifting a barbell makes you crazy, people understand and relate. But, if you mention depression? Will you really get the same response? It’s not like talking about this is...

Read More
Enlightened cheeseburgers are the best cheeseburgers in the universe
Aug02

Enlightened cheeseburgers are the best cheeseburgers in the universe

“I’m sure the universe is full of intelligent life. It’s just too intelligent to come here.” – Arthur C. Clarke First, I forget that I don’t have keys to the gym. I gave them to Lon so that he can run open gym on Friday nights, and I haven’t made another set yet. I pull up to the gym, and before I even open the car door, I remember this and sigh. So, I run back to the coffee shop to get Nick’s keys so that I can actually open the gym door and retrieve the phone charger. Next, I go to pay rent and pull up to the property management office and realize that my checkbook is at home. I text Nick and tell him that sometimes I think the universe is conspiring against me. He doesn’t respond to my text. I imagine him rolling his eyes at me and telling me something about science and how the universe doesn’t give a shit about me and what does it even mean to say that a bunch of planets and stars and black holes conspire against me. He has never actually rolled his eyes at me, and I don’t think he is an eye roller, but this is how I imagine it in my head. Then, traffic happens. I fully intend to stop at Greenlife to get something “healthy” for dinner on the way to pick him up and head to the gym for the evening, but Merrimon Avenue is not my friend, and I already know that Patton Avenue will not be my friend, and if I stop at Greenlife at 5:00 pm, I will have to wait in line behind 20 hippies who all want to buy some organic gluten-free dairy-free cruelty-free rainforest-certified kale for dinner, and I will be late to open the gym. I text him to say that I don’t really want fast food and that I think we should wait to eat until we get home, and then I realize that we will be starving because we haven’t eaten since breakfast and we have to be at the gym until after 9:00 pm. So, I think maybe I can suffer and eat fast food because that is better than starving, and then I realize that everything that I want to eat is on the wrong side of Patton Avenue. Between 240 and the gym, I will pass Arby’s and McDonald’s and Wendy’s and Krispy Kreme and Sonic and even KFC, and they will all be on the opposite side of the street. There is a giant median that necessitates a double U-turn in...

Read More