Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Day

Picking up where the last post left off ...
It was a real time away for us -- no internet, no TV news, very little radio news, no newspaper most days. I can't remember when I became aware that all hell had broken loose in Gaza.

I spent most of my personal time reading and trying to write a coherent piece about what I was reading. On the way to Jane and Scott's on Christmas Eve, we stopped for gas in Brattleboro, Vt and bought the New York Times. The was a front page article on Jewish response to the Bernard Madoff scandal. I was particularly struck by a statement made by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Congregation Ansche Chesed which is about a mile and a half from our apartment in Morningside Gardens.
In a recent sermon, Rabbi Kalmanofsky described Mr. Madoff as the antithesis of true piety. “I said, what it means to be a religious person is to be terrified of the possibility that you’re going to harm someone else,” he said.
The first time I read that, it struck a chord but I thought that "terrified" was a little over the top. The more I ponder it, though, the less extravagant I think it is.

As we started out from New York on Christmas Eve, I turned on the radio to catch the end of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College Cambridge. After I listened to the ninth lesson (John 1:1-14) I mentioned to Liz that I had read a wonderful rendering of John 1:14a at Preludium:
The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood... (1.14a, The
Message)
(As an aside, I had never consciously encountered The Message before and in fact it was only after I got back to New York that I discovered where that rendering came from. In the course of looking The Message up, I found an otherwise perceptive review that oddly thinks the rendering "moved into the neighborhood" is facetious.)

We got to Jane's house too late to go to the afternoon Christmas Eve service at Christ Episcopal Church in Montpelier, so we went to another church a little later. -- I won't say which one. We did get to Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday and got to hear the opening of John again. The rector, David Hall, preached a fine sermon. We go to that church whenever we are visiting Jane on a Sunday. and we like it.

While at Jane's, I was also reading Helene Cooper's The House at Sugar Beach, a large part of which is about the bloody events in Liberia that began in April 1980. As I thought about the evils of war as exemplified by the Liberian events, about Rabbi Kalmanofsky's observation that to be religious is to be fearful of inflicting harm on another, and about the Incarnation, which is central to my own religious faith, I contemplated writing a brilliant blog post on the subject -- even though almost no one reads this blog. Since I didn't have my computer with me, I began composing in a spiral notebook.

I got far enough to observe that not doing harm was not enough -- we actually have to do good.

Another book I began reading in Vermont was Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. On Sunday after I learned that Israel had begun bombing Gaza, I was particularly struck by Obama's observation on the difference between values and ideology.
Values are faithfully applied to the facts before us, while ideology overrides whatever facts call theory into question.
Rather than getting into a rant about Israel and Palestine, I just want to observe that it appears obvious to me that the public statements of Israeli officials are dripping with ideology. The statements of the weaker party, Hamas, are also dripping with ideology.

In that article on the Madoff scandal, Rabbi Jennifer Krause said
The Talmud teaches that a person who only looks out for himself and his own interests will eventually be brought to poverty.
I believe that principle extends to security -- even national security.

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