...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Monday, April 30, 2007

"My name is Judge!"




Sure, when you first look at them, one's a close-talking, festive sweater-wearing, "Judge Reinhold's Courtroom"-hosting disbeliever in Santa Claus and the other's a gay Broadway star. But has anyone ever seen Judge Reinhold and Michael Ball in the same place at once?

Knowledge, Wisdom, Understanding: Cha-Ba-D

Friday I presented and defended my thesis before all the Religious Studies faculty, my advisor, and other seniors (and a few others who came out of interest). (Thesis title: "To Heal the World: Tikkun Olam as Interpreted by Chabad-Lubavitch and Jewish Renewal." If you want to read it, feel free to live a comment or facebook me and I'll send it to you as an attachment.) In my case, it was more "presentation" than "defense:" since I didn't type out a script, but rather spoke from an outline I made the night before, I didn't know how long it was going to be and Rob had to cut me off after twenty minutes or so (we were supposed to speak for fifteen minutes then answer questions for five). One student asked a quick question about the degree to which my Weberian framework was appropriate--he understood how I was using the categories of "inner-worldly" and "world-rejecting/world-fleeing" religion, but wasn't sure how applicable the "ascetic" and "mystic" categories were. I was a little nervous about getting thrown a curveball by one of the faculty, so I was glad that the only question I got was such an easy (but pertinent) one. I chatted more with some of the faculty and students at lunch.

I think the presentation went well. I hit all my main points, but afterwards I realized I could have been clearer and more concise about the ways that Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, adapted Lurianic tikkun olam in the Tanya: the nefesh elohit, or divine soul, of the Jew is connected to God by 613 strands representing the 613 mitzvot, or commandments; the work of tikkun, or healing, is realized through observance of the mitzvot, which restores the relationship of the nefesh elohit with the Divine.

Afterwards, I was talking with my advisor Sylvia and she told me how gratifying it was to her to see how far I've come in my knowledge of Hebrew, Judaism and Jewish history, especially since I knew next to nothing when I took her Intro to Judaism class two years ago--I mean, I'd taken the Hebrew Bible class, but that's not Judaic Studies and it's pretty unfortunate that that's the extent of most Religious Studies students' knowledge of Judaism. In particular she complimented my Hebrew and said that I sounded very natural in my usage and pronounciation. (She actually told me too that she wondered if people understood all of the Hebrew phrases I used--in my topic, there's no way to get around a lot of Hebrew--because I generally only translated things like halakhah, sefirot, nefesh elohit, mitzvah and Mosiach the first time I said them.)

It's a little hard to believe that my undergraduate thesis is complete. Part of writing a long paper (and my final draft turned out to be 43 pages) is reaching that point when you realize that you could just keep researching and writing and reading and working indefinitely, and keep adding layers upon layers. New lines of investigation open up, and dozens of possible tangents become clear. I didn't have time to pursue all of them, but I made a note to myself about ideas for graduate research, and obviously I'm going to continue attending P'nai Or and thinking about tikkun olam...really, rather than being complete, my thesis is To Be Continued.

* Chabad is an acronym of "Chochkmah, Binah, Da'at," or "Knowledge, Wisdom, Understanding," three of the ten sefirot within the system of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. Each sefirah is like a different emanation or energy level of God's being. Chabad prizes mystical knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of God, so it takes its name from the acronym for those three sefirot. In older literature, like the Tanya, and particularly things that were written for those literate in Hebrew, the name of the dynasty is sometimes spelled HaBaD or ChaBaD, emphasizing that it's an acronym for the Hebrew words. ("Lubavitch," like all other names of the different Hasidic dynasties, refers to the town in Eastern Europe where Chabad-Lubavitch originated.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tzimtzum, the birth pangs of creation

Three in the morning, and I'm finally, finally, done with my thesis, citations, references, formatting, and all. Counting the bibliography, it clocks in at 41 pages. I've never written anything so long before. It makes the 15-page Mormonism paper I have to whip up tomorrow look like nothing. Right now, though, I just want to sleep.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The geekiest present ever

Today we did course evaluations in the Mormonism seminar. After the professor, Susannah, left the room, Katie turned to me: "Hey, Jessica, are you going to the Religious Studies reception?"

"I don't know," I replied. "It's at the same time as the Phi Beta Kappa reception. Why?"

"Oh, well, I got Rob a little gift and I thought you'd want to be there when I gave it to him."

Oh my God! This is actually going to happen! We made a list of all the people still around who were in the Biblical Studies seminar (Eric, Ellen, Frances, Tom, Heidi, Andy, Stephen...anyone else?) and I think Katie's going to get everyone to sign a card or something. This will be the geekiest, but also possibly the most apropos, gift ever given.

Thesis Update: Done, at 37 pages! Now it's time to polish up those citations and put together my bibliography.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Productive

I wrote twelve pages of my thesis today (that is, Monday)--I'm up to thirty-two. I think it'll probably be about forty pages when I'm done, not counting the bibliography and title page and table of contents. The only thing I have left to write is the conclusion, which is mostly going to be pieced together from material from my Methods paper for Paul last semester--I hope to finish that tomorrow, after weight training but before my Mormonism seminar. Tuesday night is to work on citations, which always feels like such a let-down after finishing a paper, all triumphant--to have to go back and fill in all the places where I just jotted down "citation needed" or "must find a reference for this" or "year?" Wednesday I'll re-read and make sure it still sounds all right; Thursday I submit it; and Friday I present and defend it.

Also, I found out that even though I only got an 82 on the last Astronomy test, the grade distribution was such that 82 is still an A. Woo!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Itchy, part two

Early last week I got this peculiar feeling in the inner corner of my left eye, like I had something stuck in there, or an in-grown eyelash or something. I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed until my cheekbone felt all bruised, but it still itched. Finally Friday afternoon I went to the health center and the nurse flipped up my eyelid and announced that I have a small sty under the lid, and I need to apply this ointment to it every four hours for five days. It's exactly as much fun as it sounds!

Edited to Add: Note the new additions to my links bar: Autotopia, the homepage of Daniel's band; The Second Sleeve, Christine's knitting blog; Hedonistic Pleasureseeker; The Comics Curmudgeon; Judge a Book by its Cover, and PostSecret. As always, if you're linked here and prefer not to be, please leave a comment and I'll remove you from the list.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Now I can type Guggenheim

Suddenly my "S" key was fine, but my "G" was almost impossible to press down. Then, after Spanish, I was checking my email, and the "B" was becoming difficult! So I took a closer look and it turns out that a little rubber earring back (the kind you slip over the back of the hook so the earring doesn't fall out) had gotten wedged in between the G and the B. I fished it out and now everything is fine. As my dad would say, "Mystery solved, problem resolved."

Also, Rob won the Teacher of the Year award!! I am so, so happy; I'm glad that it finally happened my senior year. Ever since his seminar in biblical studies, focusing on Jewish diasporic identity in Egypt during the Ptolemaic Empire, Katie C. and I have been talking about getting him a garden gnome as a thank-you gift upon our graduation...we would name it Herakleopolis. It would be the Herakleopolite Gnome.

GET IT?**

**A nome was an administrative district in ancient Egypt, one of the administrative hallmarks of the Ptolemaic Empire. There were a ton of them--my favorite name was the Krokodilopolite Nome. The biggest Jewish population was in the Herakleopolite Nome, so most of the Jewish texts we read came from that area.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This is kind of like my thesis in a nutshell (minus the sexualized violence)

First things first:

1) I found The Comics Curmudgeon via MizzMarvel, and it is so funny: daily commentary and snark on the syndicated newspaper comics. I'm always up for some good old-fashioned Pluggers-bashing.

2) The "s" and "g" keys on my keyboard are sticking and it's incredibly irritating. I think maybe an ant crawled under the keys. I wish I were kidding.

On to more important things:

Last Sunday I went to a lecture at Havurah Shalom ("Fellowship of Peace"), Portland's Reconstructionist synagogue. Apparently every year they bring in a scholar in residence who gives a series of lectures and classes; this year the scholar was Dr. Tamar Kamionkowsi, a feminist biblical scholar and dean of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the principal organization that trains and ordains Reconstructionist rabbis and cantors. (I was pleased that two of my professors--Rishona and Sylvia--know me and my interests well enough that they both gave me a heads-up about the lecture series). The lecture on Sunday was about feminist interpretation of Ezekiel 16, a shockingly violent and misogynistic prophecy against Israel (technically Judea? I don't remember enough from Old Testament class which prophets preached against the Northern or the Southern Kingdoms). In chapter 16, Ezekiel likens Israel and the Jewish people to an ungrateful whore of a wife who spreads her legs for all the passing men and fornicates with phallic idols; the passage we read (up until verse 34) culminates in the gang rape of Israel, which is necessary before God can forgive her.

I was expecting Dr. Kamionkowski's lecture to be standard format: her at the front at the bima (like the pulpit), and everyone else in chairs. I was surprised and intimidated to walk into the room and see that the chairs were all set up around big tables in a square formation and a Hebrew/English copy of the Tanakh in front of every place. The arrangement helped faciliate discussion, though, and I loved the extent to which Dr. Kamionkowski's feminist theory was reflected in her praxis. At the beginning of the lecture, we all got into small groups and read through the text then discussed our reactions to it; I was sitting with my thesis advisor Sylvia, and she followed along in the Hebrew while I read the English aloud. Dr. Kamionkowski herself had tons of interesting insights about significance of the Hebrew verb tenses and translation issues, and the cultural context of the text. Plus, she followed what's now my fantasy academic progression: BA from a small liberal arts college, MDiv from Harvard Divinity, PhD in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis.

I never thought I would hear the words "strap-on dildo" spoken aloud in a synagogue, that's for sure.

(Religious Studies nerdiness ahead)

I mentioned at the beginning of Holy Week that there's a somewhat paradoxical relationship between Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionism, and the more time I spend in Reconstructionist circles, the more clear that paradox becomes. Renewal and Reconstructionism are probably the two most influential emergent Jewish denominations (although Reconstructionism has been around a great deal longer); they're pretty much at the forefront of liberal Judaism. Certainly, most of the literature about tikkun olam comes from either Renewal or Reconstructionist sources--a lot of the articles I've found are from the publication The Reconstructionist, and Havurah Shalom, like probably most progressive congregations of any denomination, urges its members to practice tikkun olam as environmental conservation and social justice.

The ironic thing is that, while tikkun olam appears in the traditional liturgy and in some texts from the rabbinic period, the concept didn't gain any momentum until Isaac Luria picked it up and spun his Kabbalistic theology around it in the Middle Ages. Suddenly, tikkun olam was not just about proper legal action, as it was in the rabbinic period; it was about healing the shattered vessels of God's sacred light that shattered during tzimtzum, the contractions that created the world. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidism, further developed Lurianic Kabbalah; this is, essentially, the tikkun olam of Chabad, and Jewish Renewal maintains the idea to at least an extent.

But whereas Renewal explicitly positions itself within a mystical understanding of the world, and draws heavily on Kabbalah (especially the Lurianic "four worlds" theology and the sefirot), and teachings from the Hasidic masters, Reconstructionism, in its founding, was staunchly anti-mystical. Its founder, Mordechai Kaplan, was an opponent of Kabbalah and wanted to strip Judaism of the notion of a supernatural God, as well as notions of spiritual exceptionalism/essentialism. Reconstructionism is much, much more rationalized than Renewal. To explain the difference using Weberian language, I would say that Reconstructionism is characterized by inner-worldly ascetic religious activism; Renewal by inner-worldly mystic religion; and Chabad by world-rejecting mysticism. (That's a really rough categorization...if you want more detail, you should come to the Religious Studies thesis presentations a week from Saturday!)

It's interesting to me that Renewal and Reconstructionism work together to the extent that they do, given that Kaplan was so rationalized and anti-mystical. When I went to Shabbat services at Havurah two weeks ago, I had the chance to chat with the rabbi, Rabbi Wolf, during the oneg, and I asked him if contemporary Reconstructionism maintains the same antagonism or skepticism towards Kabbalah and mysticism that Kaplan did. Rabbi Wolf told me that he thinks, in the years since its founding, Reconstructionism has come almost full circle, to an incorporation and appreciation of mysticism: "That's the entry way into Judaism for people now. Those are the questions people are asking; that's they way that people are finding to relate to God." He attributed the reinvigoration of mystic Judaism to the Jewish Renewal spirit that's pervaded, in his words, "all of liberal Judaism." I found that so fascinating, since it's an opinion I've heard before, but only from Renewal sources.

His daughter came up to say something to him, so I assumed we were done talking and began to drift over to the oneg table. "Wait, Jessica, one more thing," he said, calling me back. "Kaplan didn't like the notion of the supernatural God--okay. And many people nowadays have a problem with the supernatural God, the idea that God is so big and just out there somewhere. But what the mystics tell us, is that God isn't just some supernatural being, out there--that God is within ourselves, that instead of being some big thing, God can be so small, and within ourselves, so small and concentrated that He approaches nothingness."

"The Ein Sof," I said.

"That's right, the Ein Sof. And so you see, that's an entry way into Judaism for many people who are disenchanted with the idea of the supernatural puppet-master God: the Ein Sof."

I don't think I'm going to be able to talk about the relationship between Reconstructionism and Renewal for more than a footnote in my thesis, which is unfortunate. But Havurah Shalom is a beautiful synagogue and the people there are very friendly, and I hope to continue to be involved in their services and events. I love P'nai Or the more full-flung incorporation of mystical theology and Hasidic traditions, and I adore Reb Aryeh. But I think that when P'nai Or has lay-led services, which happens about once a month, I'll try to go to Havurah that morning instead.

Itchy

Today during Mormonism class I was tired down to the tips of my fingers, like each key stroke (I was taking notes on my computer) was a monumental task, the eyelid fluttering kind of tired. (I don't know why, because I've been getting more sleep than normal.) After class ended I went to the Dovecote and bought coffee and then I stumbled up to the Pamplin room of the library for an afternoon nap. I woke up after an hour and ate some Triscuits that someone had left on the table, then set the left-overs down on the ground next to me on a paper towel and fell back asleep. When I awoke I looked down at the Triscuits and they were covered with ants. Dozens of ants were marching their way across the floor towards the Triscuits. Since my messenger bag and shoes were also on the floor I'm afraid that my stuff got infested and now I feel all itchy and jumpy and keep shaking out my hair and scratching my head and rubbing my eyes--ever since a particular episode of ER about ten years ago, insects crawling into my eyes and ears has been one of my biggest phobias.

Monday, April 09, 2007

He's a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest

I find my Spanish professor's eleven pages of Amazon.com video game reviews endlessly fascinating and amusing...I just checked his review page and he's got some new ones up. The idea of M. lecturing on medieval Spanish notions of authority and authorship in Don Quijote by day and playing these violent shoot-'em-up RPGs by night just cracks me up. Plus, he wrote a science fiction novel. What?!

Fotocopiadora 12 de febrero


In Chile, students don't typically buy books for their classes. Instead, everyone checks the book out the library and photocopies the entire thing, then either gets it spiral-bound or clips the packet together. You don't make your own photocopies the way we do in the US, and there was no equivalent to Kinko's. Rather, the street across from the University was lined with little photocopy shops (fotocopiadoras) where you would go and order your copies. Sometimes, especially at first, It was frustrating for us gringos, because often there would only be one copy of the book in the library, so if it was checked out you were out of luck. Or, the professor might leave the book at a fotocopiadora, and the students would be responsible for going to get their copies made. This could also be confusing because some professors would just say "Oh, I left the book at the fotocopiadora across the street" (but they were all across the street!) and the Chilean students would just know which one they were talking about.

12 (Pronounce it doce, or doh-say) de febrero was my favorite fotocopiadora. It was also the one that Carla's and my Brazilian Culture professor used, so we became well-acquainted with good ol' Doce. It was run by an older woman and her young daughter? niece? granddaughter? I don't know what their relationship was, but the young woman was extraordinarily helpful and gracious. In fact, our Jon developed a little crush on "12 de febrero," as we called her: "She's the only woman in Chile who's smiled at me!" He even concocted this plan about faking an internship with the fotocopiadora to study Chilean commerce (he was a business student) as a way of getting to know her but balked after he realized that he would have to photocopy hundreds of pages illegally: "I just coudn't live with myself breaking that many copyright laws!"

Here the women are, photocopying:

This is the Casa Central (central house or building) of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, where I studied:

And finally, here's one of my professors, Dr. Jorge Mendoza. Of all my professors, he was the most jokey and informal with the students, and he used a ton of slang in his lectures. Sometimes I would run some of his phrases by Daniela, one of my good Chilean friends, and she would be all, "...He said that? In class?" I didn't know this at the time, but my friend Juan Carlos told me after the semester ended that Dr. Mendoza was taken prisoner and tortured during the Pinochet regime. That just about blew me away. This picture is from our Moral Social (Social Morality, but I bet you figured that out) class; it looks like we were talking about the mission of the Church and Pope Paul VI. You know, to this day, I couldn't tell you the point of that class. We laughed a lot, though, and I met some cool ciencias religiosas people.

A funny story from Moral Social: towards the end of the semester, Dr. Mendoza announced that us gringos (there were three of us in the class, although somehow I always was the token gringa who he pointed to whenever he needed to demonstrate a point about "those people over there" in the US) wouldn't have to take the final oral exam with him. There was an immediate uproar and suddenly all the Chileans were clapping in rhythm and chanting "In--jus--ticia!! In--jus--ticia!! In--jus--ticia!!" ("Injustice! Injustice! Injustice!") My friend Ronald cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered "ESCUCHA LA VOZ DEL PUEBLO, PROFE!" ("Listen to the voice of the people, doc!") All the other gringos and I could do was laugh.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I Dreamed a Met a Galilean (parts four and five)

April 5: Maundy Thursday

Thursday evening Chris, Matt, and I went to the Maundy Thursday service at my church, First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Portland. I'm not going to pull any punches: I hated it. Hated, hated, hated. They took the readings out of what must have been a paraphrased children's Bible or something, which made it not only highly colloquial (at first I thought they were reading from the New Living or something) but also allowed them to skip over all difficult theological points--and, oh you know, the whole thing about Jesus being the Son of Man. I felt like Mary Magdalene at the tomb: "They've taken my Lord, and I don't know where they've laid him." Maundy Thursday is one of the most significant and meaningful days of the Christian calendar, and I felt that they treated it very disrespectfully; it was like a slap in the face. It made me not want to go to the UCC anymore, and indeed, I skipped the Easter service at my own church and went with Chris to the service at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

April 6: Good Friday

Good Friday has become one of the hardest days of the year for me. It's very sad and somber spiritually, of course, but the past couple years it's also always marked some kind of emotional upheaval. Last year on the afternoon of Good Friday my former roommate R. and I had--not an argument exactly, but an encounter, tense with hostility; the kind of incident that stands out in your mind when you look back over a relationship and try to figure out exactly when it turned sour. It wouldn't be accurate to say that that encounter was the beginning of the end of our friendship, and neither was it the final nail in the coffin, but on that Good Friday it was crushing and felt very, very final. I was planning that evening to go to a Good Friday service with my friend and classmate E. at her church, and we hadn't even made it out of the parking lot before I broke down sobbing. If E. was surprised or taken aback she didn't show it. She couldn't have been more understanding and supportive, and I'm deeply grateful for her understanding and prayers during that time. The sorrow of Good Friday took on an especial significance for me that day, and (I hope I don't lose my Bible Study for Hippies cred for saying this) I was thankful to be attending an evangelical church with E., where the prayers were fervent and loud and the God, personal.

Nothing so dramatic happened this Good Friday, thankfully. I was one of the readers for the 3pm Good Friday service in the Chapel, and then I went to the monthly Taizé prayer service in the evening. For the first time during Taizé, I tried kneeling during prayer (in the UCC we just remain seated) and I loved it. It was as though just the small difference in physical position made a world of difference in my emotional and spiritual orientation.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Highs and lows

This morning I got an email from the Dean of the Chapel telling me that I've been elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest undergraduate honor society. (I forwarded the email to my mom, and she used, no joke, about thirty-five exclamation points in her response.) Needless to say, I was pretty thrilled. My mom was elected Phi Beta Kappa at Whitman College in 1976 and ever since I was a little girl I've begged her to teach me the secret handshake (there really is one) but she always refused: "Make Phi Beta Kappa when you're in college, and then I'll show you." When I got the email this morning, the first thing I thought was, "Now Mom has to show me the handshake!" Then I got a surprise email this afternoon from the administrative assistant of the Religious Studies department, telling me that in congratulations the Religious Studies department has decided to pay my membership dues ($60)! She told me to thank Rob and Paul, my two favorite Rels. professors, next time I see them, so I think maybe they were behind the decision. All this good news helps temper the oppressive load of an Astronomy test on Friday and a ten-page Don Quijote research paper (in Spanish) due Monday, as well as this general sense of ennui and melancholy that I've been having trouble shaking today. I've been feeling drained and listless; this morning I woke up with the worst cramps I've had in years. I guess my body is punishing me for not letting it grow a baby. I really, really didn't want to go to Astronomy, and I felt sort of sick, but not sick enough that I wouldn't have felt guilty skipping class. In the end, I went; since we have an exam next class I didn't want to miss anything, and I harbor a prideful distrust of anyone's notes but my own.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

This feels like a Víctor Jara song


Sometimes something happens that makes me miss Chile so much that it's like an actual physical ache. Yesterday I had to take the #51 bus from downtown to get to Harriet's house, way up in the hills above the downtown area. V., J., Helana and I all ran into each other on our way there, but the bus was too crowded for us all to sit together, so I sat by myself at the very back of the bus and listened to my iPod and watched the scenary go by. As the bus twisted up into the hills of upper southwest, the route and the views reminded me so strongly of taking the little orange #14 ("La Catorce") back to Jardines de Agua Santa every day after my classes as the university ended that I sat almost breathless, willing myself not to start crying there on the bus.

The flat part of Valparaíso--along the waterfront, from where Avenida España empties on to Errázuriz, and a couple blocks up from Avenida Pedro Montt, up to Playa Ancha or so--is called "El Plan." Not much of Valparaíso is "Plan," though. To get up into the multicolored hills, you can either take one of the few winding staircases or long switchbacks, an ascensor , or one of the old green, yellow, or orange buses that chugged up the cerros, all "I think I can I think I can." La Catorce was not one of the newer buses, the #1 or the #111, that sped along Avenida España between Viña del Mar (where I lived) and Valparaíso (where I studied); if the Joads came out to California by bus, they could have come by La Catorce. Occasionally the bus would stall on its way up a hill and begin to slide backwards slightly; once it rolled to a stop in front of park somewhere in Cerro Recreo and the driver made us all get out and wait for the next bus. (I was relaxed enough by that point that I just went to an almacén (convenience store), bought an Escudo, and sat in the park, pasándolo piola no más po.) Always there would be vendors hopping on and off the bus, selling popsicles de chirimoya or lújuma, native Chilean fruits; or tchotchkes; well-appointed men and women on their way home from work at the national Congress would sit primly reading El Mercurio; elderly women hauled their bags home from the mercado; uniformed school children bounced and giggled as they squeezed three to a seat. It took about thirty-five minutes to get from the university in Valparaíso to Jardines de Agua Santa, my condo complex in Viña, and I always had a book with me, but more often I would just look out the window and try to absorb the sights and sounds of life in Chile, as though if I stared at it hard enough it would truly sink in, get under my skin.

The #51 up into the hills of Portland was much quieter, more orderly, making regular stops at designated points. The seats were not ripped, and there were no makeshift saint medallions of Padre Hurtado and Santa Teresa de los Andes. But looking out the window, the hills, the winding streets and hairpin curves, the wheeze of the bus, I could have sworn I was taking La Catorce home, passing through Cerro Recreo and Calle Arlegui, and the realization that I wasn't hurt so badly that it almost made me cry.

I Dreamed I Met a Galilean (part three)

This morning on my way back from my weight-training class I ran into A., my friend who is exploring Greek Orthodox spirituality. (Unfortunately, it never worked out for me to go to the Orthodox information classes with her.) Although we hadn't seen each other for almost two months, I've always felt as though A. and I have the kind of friendship where we can go long stretches of time without seeing each other, and then pick up right where we left off. "Jessica!" she exclaimed when she saw me. "I'm doing it! I'm going all the way!" She's going to take the plunge (literally) and convert to Orthodox Christianity. She's been dating an Orthodox boy and aspiring priest for two weeks; when they first got together, he told her that he didn't believe in dating without the ultimate goal of marriage. "And I said, 'thank God! Neither do I!'" she exclaimed. In her own way, A. has come to the same conclusion as Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and the kids over at The Rebelution; somehow, though, her journey feels more authentic to me, since courtship wasn't an idea she was raised with, but rather a conclusion she came to on her own.

I've known A. since our first year, when we lived down the hall from each other. I wouldn't have expected, back then, that four years later she would be looking at a future as the wife of a Greek Orthodox priest. But she's happier and more content now than I've ever seen her; I hope that in Orthodoxy, she has found her home.

Monday, April 02, 2007

I Dreamed I Met a Galilean (part two)

Erev Pesach: Seder at Harriet's house.

Jewish Renewal is occasionally described as "ecofeminist Hasidism," a label that becomes more and more apt the more familiar one becomes with the tradition. While I'm not an ecofeminist, I'm sympathetic to certain elements of ecofeminist thought, and I have paramount respect and admiration for Hasidism, so Renewal is a pretty great spiritual fit for me.

Harriet is one of the lay-leaders of P'nai Or, Portland's Jewish Renewal congregation. She graciously invited both Helana, another LC student who attends P'nai Or, and me to a Passover Seder at her house. There were about sixtten other guests there, comprised of other women from P'nai Or, people from other Jewish congregations, old friends, and a few other non-Jews. We went around and read the Haggadah together, changing God's pronouns as we went: "Our father/mother God..." Not everyone limited themselves to the four prescribed glasses of wine, so there was a lot of spontaneous discussion, laughter, and niggunim (wordless melodies popularized as a spiritual discipline by the Hasidic masters). Everyone was excited to hear that it was my first Seder and shouted "Mazel Tov!" when Harriet told them. There was another non-Jew, the husband of one of the middle-aged women there; when his turn came to read the Haggadah, he asked, "Am I allowed to?" "Well, of course!" an eighty-three-year-old woman replied. "Whose permission do you need, exactly?"

Memorable moments:

Me: "Baruch ata Adonai eloheynu melech ha-olam borey p'ri ha-gafen..." (stumbling over the blessing of the first cup of wine)
Helana: "You're doing good, Honorary Jew."

Helana: "Just so you know, you're allowed to drink all of that cup of wine. It's already been blessed."
Me: "I know, I'm just trying to pace myself."
Helana: "Whatever. Pacing's for the Gentiles."

Next up: Seder with Daniel's family, tomorrow night.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I Dreamed I Met a Galilean (part one)

Alternate Title: "This Week in God."

Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week in the Christian tradition. Tomorrow is Erev Pesach, the eve of Passover in the Jewish tradition. Since this year, for the first time ever, I'm fairly immersed in both traditions, I thought it would be interesting to blog through Holy Week and Pesach. This morning as I was riding the bus to church, I went through my schedule for this week, and realized I'm participating in something religious every day of week:

Sunday, April 1: Palm Sunday. I went to services at First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Monday, April 2: Erev Pesach. I'm attending a Passover Seder at the home of Harriet, a woman from P'nai Or who generously invited me and Helana to come over for the holiday.

Tuesday, April 3: Second day of Passover. I'm going to a Seder at Daniel's house.

Wednesday, April 4: Bible Study for Hippies on campus with the gang.

Thursday, April 5: Maundy Thursday. I'll be going to a Tenebrae service at First Congregational this evening. I'm hoping to meet with Reb Aryeh again today to talk some more about the Jewish Renewal conception of Tikkun Olam, but I have yet to call his assistant and schedule a meeting.

Friday, April 6: Good Friday. Since it's the first Friday of the month, there's a Taizé prayer service on campus.

Saturday, April 7: I would normally go to Shabbat services at P'nai Or this morning, but my thesis advisor Sylvia and I both thought that I needed some standard of comparison by which to better understand Jewish Renewal. Since I've never attended any synagogues before P'nai Or, often I can't tell how typical their practices are, or where they're veering away from (I don't want to say "deviating from," since that implies a value judgement) or reinterpreting tradition. So this Shabbat I'll be going to services at Havurah Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in northwest Portland. (I have more to say about the paradoxical relationship between Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionism, but I'm trying to restrain myself right now.) Today is also Holy Saturday. I want to go to the Easter Vigil at Trinity Episcopal downtown, but the lu'au is also tonight and I don't want to miss it...I'll probably leave the lu'au right at 8--supposedly when it ends, although it will probably run on LC time, which is to say, late--and try to enter the vigil unobtrusively.

Sunday, April 8: Easter Sunday. I'd like to go to an early 8:00 am service at Trinity or First Congregational, but the shuttle doesn't start running until 7:50. I will definitely be going to the 10:30 service at First Congregational.

If anyone reading this wants to join me for any of the churchy stuff, just let me know. Check back to tomorrow for reflections on Palm Sunday and yesterday's Shabbat service at P'nai Or; and may you all have a blessed week.