For the Sins I’ve Committed

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day in the Jewish year. It begins Sunday evening and runs until we can see three stars on Monday evening. It is a day of fasting, when we eat no food, drink no water. We spend a great deal of the day in synagogue praying. The centerpiece of these prayers is a confession of sins, in which we, as a congregation, confess to  an acrostic of sins. We confess to everything from being thoughtless in our dealings with other people, to deliberate transgressions.

The theory of the day is that if one has asked forgiveness from anyone one has sinned against the previous year, and they have forgiven you, the Day of Atonement atones. For sins against God or oneself, the Day of Atonement atones. In this way, at least in theory, we start each year with a clean slate.

For me, reading through the confession of sins is an opportunity to think about whether there are ways I’ve committed each of those sins over the last year. Some sins, I clearly have (pride, lack of attention to the effect my words may have on others). Some sins, I’m pretty sure I didn’t commit (I’m pretty sure I didn’t pervert justice this year, or commit a violent act). Many more are the categories that require me to really think about my actions over the past year (disrespecting parents and teachers, mocking others, sins in our business affairs, for instance). This is where I get the real value out of the confession: rethinking my acts of the last year, and examining them under the moral microscope.

As we head towards Yom Kippur, and I am thinking over my last year, I ask your forgiveness if I have wronged you, and I forgive all those who may have wronged me. I resolve to try to do better in the coming year, and I pray that for all my sins, I will be forgiven, pardonned, and granted atonement.

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Bankruptcy and New Beginnings

A few weeks ago, Eva and I filed for bankruptcy as a result of the end of CubeSpace. The process has been a learning experience.

Bankruptcy is really designed to give one a new start, and seems to function that way. Having gotten into financial waters over one’s head, with no way out,  bankruptcy is an opportunity to declare a financial “do-over.” Almost all debts are wiped out, and one can begin again from a new baseline.

For myself and Eva, this really does give us a second chance. We have the opportunity to move forward from CubeSpace without deep debts incurred in the process of running CubeSpace, and the ability to continue our careers without being permanently hamstrung by debt. This process is designed to allow people to take business chances, and move forward if they don’t pan out.

This time of year, the Days of Awe, in the Jewish calendar, is a time of introspection, a time of new starts, and examining our lives, and where we are going. They conclude with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on which we are forgiven our sins from the previous year, and given a metaphorical “new beginning.”

The new beginning of bankruptcy and Yom Kippur coming at the same time is an interesting confluence of events. They reinforce each other’s messages, and create a strong sense of transition. It is a message I’m ready to embrace this year. I’m ready for a new beginning.

Year in Review: 5769

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I try to review my year. The Jewish Year coming up is 5770, and the year just ending, is 5769. Last year I started a tradition of doing that, in part, by doing a review of the year in the blog. I’m continuing that tradition this year. It looks to me like there have been 62 posts since last Rosh Hashanah. So let’s review the year.

It seems like the year was dominated by deaths and endings. These started right at Rosh Hashanah with the death of my dear friend Pam Webb. Then there was Cat Saga, starting when we adopted Shadow. It seemed an auspicious start, but by the time I took her to the vet a few weeks later, there’s already a tone of frustration (though also some pictures). After this, about 3 weeks later we decided to bring her back to the humane society, but they couldn’t take her for about 2 weeks.  Then Artemis, my most beloved cat, died. I tried to write an appropriate remembrance of her, but failed. Eva wrote her memorial to Artemis for me. I still intend to write about her one of these days, but I’m not quite ready yet. The loss of Artemis was a big blow to me this year.  Shortly thereafter, Shadow, still not coming out to visit us, was again captured and returned to the humane society.

The downside of this year really was capped off by CubeSpace folding. My first post as we were figuring out what was going on, linking to the CubeSpace blog, and other places to catch people up. The next post on the subject, was our farewell, which I posted on the CubeSpace blog and linked to. Then there was the post about my plans after-CubeSpace. My post on last day of CubeSpace was definitely sad, as was the day. And then my post, most of a month later, about moving forward. And then about my first disastrous interview for a job.

There was also some joy and celebration. Politics was definitely a significant part of this year. Election night, a super quick post. The next day, I spent some time looking at Obama and Hope and optimism. A list of things I’m thankful for in honor of Thanksgiving. Then came innauguration, which I live-blogged.

There were definitely reflections on ways I was stretching: new types of projects I was working on. And how many types of projects I was working on towards the end of this post. And how many things seems to hit all at once. And just how busy life is, and how to do lists seem to be growing, not shrinking.  How frustrating computers can be when I’m trying to stretch. Again with the whirlwind of life. And being tired after barcamp. And then trying to figure out how to organize time after CubeSpace, and mindfulness as a tool to do so. A few days later I was writing about how we use words to organize our understanding of the world.

As always, rabbinic work spurred some writing. A post about my first weekend with a congregation in Bend. Or my recurring Rabbinic nightmare of being unprepared. I talk a little about the spriritual experience of performing a wedding. A rant on the subject of the lack of marriage equality, in response to false news that Prop 8 had been overturned. A post about how I, as a rabbi, have something to say. A post about how I write, and how I write sermons. More reflections on God and spirituality were spurred by burying a teenager.

There were reflections on Judaism and Jewish Spirituality, starting with some thoughts about Yom Kippur. Also some thoughts about Shabbat, as noticed by my not observing it. Some reflections on Humility, followed immediately by a humorous view of humility. Then came Passover, and a post about Passover and the Tough Economy. Immediately following Passover, begins the counting of the Omer, and I talk about my Omer practice for the year, reading spriritual text. I then share some thoughts on theology, coming out of Tomer Devorah. I finished up the year with some thoughts on Rosh Hashanah prayer.

Reflections on Portland and nature, and seasons, and the like. Walking home from work, and how it’s different from walking to work in the morning. Also a post on walking to work in the rain. And also Portland and the Portland technical community, and the nature of electronic community. Then there was Sam Adams, and his indiscretions, and my plea for people to let the dust settle. Wonderings about how the community could pull together in the face of the economic disaster area. Followed immediately by the flowers of Portland. And then, more photos of flowers. Also a post about the CubeSpace Community as a Spiritual Community. And then a post about gratitude, and expressions of gratitude.

There was a little bit of knit-blogging, but not much. Working on mittens on a deadline. I also revisited those mittens in this post. I started a lace scarf, but really never got very far with it.

There was some deliberate humor. Thanksgiving, and how not to do it. An already mentioned post about humility. Some attempted humor about how busy I was. A Psalm for Purim amused me.

Some stuff defies classification: Preparing for my Ignite Portland presentation and the a wrap up of Ignite Portland; A survey on what you want me to blog about. A post about how Eva and I do anniversaries, not necessarily in the most normal ways. A post for the Portland Interview Project in which I interview Grant Kruger. A short film I embedded because I thought it made such a good point about religion. Some thoughts about memory. I wrote about reading introductions. A list of workshops I’d like to teach.

It was, all in all, a really tough year. I got through it with love and help from friends and family. I’m really hoping we don’t need as much help in the coming year.

Sign Me Up for the Good Life

Rosh Hashanah is coming up faster than I expected, just as it does every year. The month of Elul, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, is a time of introspection and preparation. For me, it is a time of beginning to review the prayerbook and remind myself of the prayers we will recite. I begin to study them, and think about what they will mean to me this year. One phrase repeats itself, in a number of minor variations, throughout the liturgy: “Incribe us in the book of life.”

In the Avinu Malkeinu, (Our Father, Our King), we find it in this form: “Our Father, Our King, write us into the book of good life.” This leads me to ask. What do I mean by this? What does it mean to be inscribed in the book of good life?

I know what I don’t mean. I don’t intend that God simply make everything go well for me in the next year. I don’t mean that God should protect me from death over the next year. I don’t mean that I believe there to be any sort of physical book (or physical God, for that matter), and that the presence or absence of my name in it determines my future.

What I do mean, I think, is that it would be nice, if over the next year, I had some sense of what decisions I can make which will lead me to living a good life; a life full of meaning, a life full of joy. It is a plea that I be able to, with Divine providence, see the good in whatever should happen to me over the coming year. It is even the plea, at some deep, pre-rational level of my brain, that good things happen to me over the coming year.

I may not rationally believe in a “wish granting God,” but prayer isn’t always rational and doesn’t always have to be consistent with our theology.  Even if my prayer is incapable of being answered, just praying it may be enough. Being willing to put out there what I would really like, even with no real expectation of possible fulfillment, can be useful.  While talking to a friend about the car you’d really love to own, you don’t expect your friend to give you the car, but it can be nice to talk about it anyway.

So when I pray, “Kotveinu b’sefer chayim tovim (inscribe us for blessing in the book of good life),” I’ll be pouring out my heart, hoping for the good in the coming year. And as always, I’ll be praying, fundamentally, not because I expect God to act on my behalf, but because it feels good to pray as though I do.

Disaster of a Job Interview

I went for a job interview today. I’d tell you what job I was applying for, but I never quite figured it out. I’d tell you who the company was, except that I’m not completely sure my impressions of the company are true, and I don’t want to falsely cast aspersions. Nonetheless, let me tell you a bit about this:

I responded to an posting on Craig’s List last week. The posting was pretty general, talked about looking for people who are team players, and want to be involved in an exciting Fortune 500 company. Pretty (extremely) vague. Yesterday (Monday), I received a call from a hiring manager. I asked what the position was. She asked what ad I’d responded to. I told her, and ,she said they were hiring for a number of positions, but didn’t give me more details. She asked me to come in for interview this morning at “11:05 AM.” She did tell me to bring a resume, a reference list, and to dress professionally, “because we are a Fortune 500 company.”

She did give me some company websites to look at. I looked at them, and discovered something that looked a lot more like a multilevel marketing scheme for life insurance than a company that was likely to be hiring real employees. I couldn’t quite tell where one company left off and another began. I certainly couldn’t tell which of the three companies which were thoroughly enmeshed would be hiring me, or whether any but the holding company would qualify as Fortune 500, but I have my doubts.

This morning, I showed up for an interview, and was asked to fill out a form, asking some of the usual job application questions, including for references. By this point, my instincts were all pushing me away from this company. I decided I wasn’t comfortable giving my references to this company until I knew more about them or the job. After all, I have very little invested, at this point, in the potential employer’s opinion of me, and a great deal invested in the opinion of those who serve as references. At the very least, I wanted to know what position I was applying for.

There were maybe 5 of us in the small waiting area, dressed professionally for interviews. The hiring manager came out, and called one of us in, and 5 minutes later the interviewee returned. Shortly thereafter, it was my turn.

We came into the room, and began talking. But her first questions were all ones she’d asked yesterday: “how long have you been looking for work?” and “what kind of work are you looking for?” Verbatim, she’d asked those jobs over the phone. She also asked for my references.

I explained I wasn’t comfortable giving my references until I knew a bit more about the job and the company. The interview went downhill from there. Apparently, that just isn’t their process. They talk to references first, call back some people for a group orientation, and then tell you about what job opportunities exist. Which to me, sounded a little bit too much like the process for being sold a timeshare. When I asked once again what the range of jobs they were hiring for, I was invited to go home, do more research on the company, and contact her again if I were interested in proceeding. Total elapsed time since I entered the room: 4 minutes.

I still don’t know what was going on. My best guess is that I did just fine by being as defensive as I was in the interview process, and that the company was not one I could have worked for (and that the job I would have been offered was as a life insurance salesman). What I”m taking away from this is that I need to trust my instincts. This one felt wrong from the beginning: too vague, and asking me for too much information without offering enough in return. On the other hand, I’ve now completed a first job interview, and feel pretty confident that I’d rather work as a barista before I sell life insurance.