A New Cat

Eva and I adopted a new cat on Sunday. She is going by the name of Shadow at the moment, which seems singularly appropriate, as she is solid gray. She is adorable. She is three years old.

This is normally when I would post some lovely pictures of our new cat. Many, many more photos than anyone would truly be interested in. Beautiful photos of the cat lounging in a variety of dignified poses as well as some rather more embarrassing photos that shouldn’t really aren’t appropriate to the dignity of a cat. Maybe even some photos of Shadow with me, with Eva, with Artemis. However, we do not have those photos here. And do you know why? Because we haven’t seen her since about Sunday at 5PM, when she discovered that there were better places to hide than under the secretary by the front door.

The key difference between me now and me 14 years ago is that I’m not freaking out. I understand that cats, moving into a new house, often hide for a bit. I’ve been through this a few times with cats. As long as she seems to be eating and using the litter box, I’ll remain relatively calm.

It is, however, very disappointing to acquire a new friend, a new cat, selected because she seems to respond to you at the humane society, and then have her disappear as soon as you get home. It’s just not the goal you’re hoping for. In fact, it kind of seems like nothing has changed, since we never really see her (though we do hear her from time to time.

By the way, the reason we are using the name Shadow instead of the name she had previously, is that her previous name was Chloe. Now, we have a history with a cat we named Chloe. And it didn’t end well.  And therefore, it seemed like we really needed to find a new name for the cat we adopted this weekend. Because she is pure gray, and somewhat shy, Shadow seemed an appropriate choice. We were hoping, however, that she might not live up to the name quite so literally.

As I said, we are not yet particularly worried. Cats take time to adjust. We are giving her time. When she’s ready, she’ll come out and say hello. But until that, we’ll satisfy ourselves with hearing her in the closets every now and again, and seeing the food disappear and the litterbox get used.

General spirituality

Advice for Sam Adams

For those of you not in Portland, you may have missed the bit of controversy surrounding some actions of our mayor, Sam Adams. He had what is apparently a consensual relationship with an 18 year old young man, and then lied about it when asked whether he had. There are now people calling for him to step down. (Just to be clear, the fact that he slept with a man is not the issue at all, the issue is the fact that he was 18).

I want to start by suggesting that this is probably not a huge deal. While it shows truly horrendous judgement, it does not impact his ability to govern effectively. We have learned over the years to separate the private sexual lives of our leaders from their effectiveness in leading. We may not like it, but we have certainly seen enough of it.

Lying to the public about it, while perhaps a  bigger deal, is not particularly blameworthy, either. I do not condone lying to the public, but he was lying to the public about an issue which is not our business. I assume that there are appropriate times for public figures to mislead and dissemble. I don’t think it’s a good practice, but I do not believe that a lie is, in and of itself, reason to declare someone unfit to govern.

I want to suggest that what everyone needs to do right now is take a deep breath, relax, and wait a month or two to see how we feel. Sam should certainly not step down at this point. He must let tempers settle and carry on with his plans for Portland. If, in a month, it turns out that this scandal is interfering with his ability to govern effectively, let him resign at that point. Otherwise, I’m hopeful that a month from now this may seem a little silly.

Admittedly, part of my view on this subject is informed by the knowledge that Portland does not have anyone else who can be an effective mayor at this point. We have other competent administrators, but no one who will be a strong leader at this time of economic upheaval. And at this time, we need a strong leader.

Finally, I want to suggest that it may be appropriate for Sam to go beyond a simple apology in making it up to the people of Portland. He has acted inappropriately (if legally). If he is as truly sorry as he says he is, perhaps he should take on a voluntary penance of public service. Not necessarily cleaning up beside roads, but doing some service which he would not otherwise do, that comes out of time which would otherwise be his free time. Again, what he did was not illegal, but it was foolish, and I believe, morally wrong (because a relationship between a 42 year old and an 18 year old can never be a relationship of equals, and because he did lie to us about it). He has embarrased our city, and this scandal is distracting city governement at a time when we can ill afford it. Spending a few hundred hours of service to the community seems like it might be appropriate restitution.




Watching people stream into the inauguration in Washington, as we also watch people wandering into the Agora (the breakroom) at CubeSpace. Sort of like watching the the red carpet at the Oscars. Seeing Ted Kennedy, Quayle, Kerry, Bush 1, Carter,  Gore.

We await the annointing of a new High Priest of the American Religion. Among the functions of the President is to be the our national clergy-person. He helps us understand what we are feeling, who we are. The president exhorts and uplifts, challenges us and comforts us. These are the functions of a minister or rabbi, and they are also the function of the president.

The secular american religion is about the feeling of the sacred evoked by the supreme court, and the houses of congress. And, of course, the President.

Inaugural addresses, more than any other presidential speech, are sermons. They are designed to inspire and challenge. (As opposed to the invocation, which, while a sermon, has absolutely no coherence…each paragraph seems to be completely separated and disconnected).

Ceremonies, like the swearing in of a new president, are ritual, powerful for the spiritual impact they have rather than the words said. We have hymns, like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

9:00: Biden’s been sworn in, and now we listen to an all-star quartet playing “Simple Gifts.” Which no doubt serves partly ot give us the space to absorb the importance of the moment…which is about how we use instrumental music in worship, also.

9:05: Obama’s Oath of office. And now we celebrate the change with “Hail to the Chief.”

The Inaugural Speech.

My God, what a speaker. He speaks of our collective responsibility…and our mistakes, which is amazing. He is issuing a call to action, the question is, can he come up with ways for us to act, rather than ways for the government to act. He will need to, not in this speech, but over the days to come.

“We are ready to lead once more.” Wondering what this will mean.

Not sure, but he may be challenging Russia. Which is a conflict we’ve seen coming, but nonetheless makes me sad.

“We cannot consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.” Amazing to hear. It is a call to us to recognize that our ways our unsustainable.

And he is back to calling on us to serve. Giving descriptions of people who have served in small ways and big ways. Through housing the homeless or raising good kids.

This may be one of the great speeches of the English Language.

That was amazing.


Great poetry, though I’m not sure who she is. The new White House Website is incredible:


You know, while the invocation sucked (not theologically, surprisingly enough, but in terms of homiletics), the closing one was great.

Now we party the rest of the day, watching parades, etc.


Electronic Community and Face-to-Face Community

I’ve been thinking a lot about virtual (or electronic) community recently. A few years back, there was a lot of talk about how internet communities weren’t “real” community. People of the older schools of thought were saying that they didn’t fulfill the same functions, and I’ve generally agreed with them. Until recently.

Increasingly, I’m changing my mind. While I still think an in-person component is useful, I do not see it as essential to true community. I’m seeing electronic means of communications forming a stronger and stronger basis of community.

The Portland Tech community is largely built around Twitter. Twitter allows people to communicate in short messsages of up to 140 characters. It is more like a bulletin board than an email. The Portland tech community tends to use it for everything from ongoing conversations about projects (“I need a Java programmer for a quick project” or “Anyone know how to make a Mac work in Swahili?”)  to quick statements that are more about connecting than conveying any information (“Can’t believe it’s still not Friday”; “Madness! Ahhhhhh!”). Our connections through Twitter mean that we know each other far better than we would if we just relied on meeting face to face. It means that by the time I meet someone face to face, I may well have had several “conversations” with them, and at the very least, I’ve heard what they have to say, and they’ve heard what I have to say.  We have an existing connection before we meet in person.

The traditionalists would say, “ah, but that’s not ‘real community.’ It doesn’t fulfill the social needs or create the tightness of bonds.” I now can disagree.

This week was my birthday. I think about three people wished me a happy birthday in person that day (it may have been slightly higher). What I remember about being wished a happy birthday are the 30 or so who wished me a happy birthday through Twitter and Facebook. Those greetings made me feel warm and fuzzy and loved. One of the true measures of community is its ability to create an emotional impact on you, and to celebrate life’s milestones in a meaningful way with you. This community did that.

I have moved off the fence. I am now firmly in the camp of those who feel like virtual communities can be as real as face-to-face communities. And I am reveling in how large and wonderful those communities can be.


A Very Thought Provoking Short

I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but a animated short I just saw was so thought provoking I wanted to share it with you all.

I don’t think this describes all religion, obviously, but I do think it points out some of the basic fallacies of fundamentalist religion. I found it meaningful and poignant. I hope it means something to you all.

General humor Rabbinic

Rabbinic Nightmares

Like everyone else, rabbis have nightmaes.  We do, however, have our own special twist on some of them.

You know that dream where you’re sitting down to take a final exam in a class you forgot you signed up for, and didn’t attend all semester? Rabbis have their own special version of that dream. We dream that the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) have snuck up on us without us noticing somehow, and we’re standing in front of the congregation with no sermon. (I’m pretty sure other rabbis have this dream also). Last night, I got a new twist on it.

Over time, I’ve discovered that I’m pretty good speaking extemporaneously. I may spend hours, or days, planning what I’ll say, but I can actually do most of the talking without notes. And I can, if desperate, usually come up with a fairly coherent sermon on the spot. Therefore, the idea of standing before a congregation unprepared does not fill me with appropriate terror anymore. At least, so says my subsconscious.

Side note: One of my professors in rabbinical school used to quote his wife, who wrote children’s books, as getting to a point in the plot and then saying, “let’s make it worse,” meaning, let’s get the protagonists into deeper trouble. My subconscious was apparently taking notes.

So if standing unprepared in front of a congregation  is not adequately terrifying, how is the situation made worse? Yom Kippur falls on the same day as Christmas (by the way, this can’t happen), which means I’m holding services in some hotel in a beach community. I had to fly to get there, and for some reason was bringing my cat, Artemis with me. Except I left her on the plane when I changed planes in Cincinatti. Which completely freaked me out. But I didn’t realize this until I reached the hotel. I spend hours on the phone trying to figure out where she is, and chasing around the airport, at which point I realize I’m hours late for the services I’m supposed to lead. Not only that, but I’ve forgotten it’s Yom Kippur and had 3 cups of coffee (Yom Kippur is a fast, no food, no drinks). So I finally get to the chapel at the hotel, to a bunch of somewhat displeased congregants, who were wondering if I’d ever show up.

The little chapel in the hotel has prayerbooks, but they are all a mishmash of various differnt ones, so page numbers and wording will all be different. But the congregation all seems okay with that. They tell me that’s how they do it every year: I sh0uld just pick my favorite prayerbook and they will follow along in theirs. And wonders of wonders, they have the prayerbook I’m most familiar with. I’m feeling better again, because I can fake my way through the service. So I open up the prayerbook, and begin the first Yom Kippur prayer before I find my place, because I know the beginnning. Except, as I flip through, I realize I’m having a little trouble reading the Hebrew…and it doesn’t seem to be laid out the way I expect. In fact, I realize this must have been a very early hand written copy of this prayerbook, when it was in draft state (this is a prayerbook, by the way, which was composed in the last 15 years, and was never handwritten, but a word-processed manuscript would not have served the needs of my subconscious). So I had a lot of trouble navigating, and only then discovered that in this draft of the prayerbook, the prayer I was singing had been left out for theological reasons, and I’d reached the limits of my memory. Not only that, but certain congregants were correcting me in ever more disapproving tones.

To make matters worse, the congregation was getting bored and wanted to go to the beach, so I was trying to lead services while on the bus to the beach, which was distracting because the bus driver wasn’t stopping at all the stops, and people were getting annoyed with him, and just started jumping out the rear door at whatever point they wanted to get  off, even though the bus was moving at 30 miles an hour.

Fortunately, at about this point, my alarm went off.

I’m hoping you find this as humorous as I do, in retrospect. Otherwise, this is deeply self-indulgent navel-gazing in public, which could be fodder for another nightmare.

General humor

Walking in the Rain

As many of you no doubt know, and more of you have no doubt forgotten, my theoretical form of exercise is walking to work. I say theoretical not because this doesn’t count as exercise when I walk to work, but rather because it doesn’t count as exercise when I “theoretically” walk to work. And for the past month or so, there has been rather a lot of the “theoretical” walking to work (unless walking the 4 blocks to the bus stop counts…and I really don’t think it does).

Yesterday and today, however, I walked to work. Braving gray skies, and even drizzle today, I walked. I am back in my exercising groove (or at least getting there).

For those of you who don’t know me in person, and may not be acutely aware that I live in Porland, Oregon, or what that entails, you may be asking, “it’s raining, why not just take the bus when it rains?” (The rest of you, stop giggling; Not nice to make fun of the uninformed).  The thing is, it is supposed to rain in Oregon from roughly mid-October to roughly mid-March. Not quite all the time…we get about a week off in February for good behavior. But other than that, it traditionally rains all winter. At least part of every day. Therefore, if I chose not to walk on the wet days, I wouldn’t walk at all during the winter. That’s just not a healthy way of life. So I walk in the rain.

The good news about walking in the rain is that most often the rain is not particularly hard. A good gortex raincoat and your pretty much ready to go (except for the spotty glasses). And it’s not too cold. Way better than walking in the snow.  And the big payoff, of course, is the spring flowers. Which should begin showing up about a month from now. Which is what makes the Oregon winter so worthwhile.