Shabbat and NaNoWriMo

As I’m working feverishly on my novel for National Novel Writing Month (18,000 words, thanks for asking), I’m approaching the first Saturday of the month. Which raises a question for me. Do I work on the novel on the sabbath?

On the one hand, I try not to use a computer on Shabbat, because it’s too work like. And in some ways, this writing really is work, in the sense of productive labor.

On the other hand, I’m having a lot of fun writing, and it’s a spiritual activity, especially given the spiritual themes of the novel. And, after all, I’ve got 50,000 words to get done before a deadline.

I really don’t know where I’m going to come out. There is work I’m willing to do on Shabbat (like lead services, for instance). But without boundaries, Shabbat ceases to have true meaning. Studying spiritual text is very traditional as a Shabbat activity. But writing it isn’t. I’m balancing, weighing the questions, trying to find a comfortable result.

I’m trying hard not to let the target of 50k words drive my decision. That’s not what Shabbat is about, and frankly, that drive is the most compelling reason to me NOT to write on Shabbat: the goal oriented nature of 50,000 words is very much not shabbastik (doesn’t feel like shabbat).

A more traditional Jew doesn’t wrestle with these questions. There are clear boundaries that one adheres to. For those of us who seek to live by finding our own path through the tradition, creating meaningful ways of celebrating and observing, the questions are tougher. Competing values come into play, and the decisions are up to us, not the rabbi we ask for a ruling.

For now, I remain undecided, but leaning towards writing. But tune in next week for the answer.

 

Setting Apart Time

I’m a rabbi. Yet even I struggle with celebrating Shabbat and the holidays, setting them apart the way I wish to. I don’t tend to work on Shabbat, but lately it hasn’t felt as special as I’d like it to feel. And I’m realizing that a part of this is that I don’t use all the tools at my disposal to make it special.

Jewish tradition teaches that we should begin the sabbath by lighting candles, saying a blessing sanctifying the day over a cup of wine and eating a relaxed meal. Many people also go to synagogue to begin Shabbat with a service. The end of Shabbat is marked by another ceremony, maybe 5 minutes in length, called havdalah. These rituals serve as signposts in time, separating a day of sanctity and rest from the rest of the work week. Yet recently, I’ve been neglecting all of these rituals.

Shabbat happens whether I observe the rituals or not. I even observe Shabbat by not working whether I observe the rituals or not. However the time feels different when set apart by ritual. I am able to mark beginning and end, to know when the computer must be turned off, and when I can turn it back on. These markers are important to feeling the full impact of the day, not because it changes what I do on the day, but because it changes the intentionality with which I do it. The closest comparison I can make is the difference between killing time by playing a video game and playing a video game with the intention of giving oneself a break from work. When one is consciously taking a break, one is more refreshed afterwards. The rituals of Shabbat are sort of like that.

So with all these good reasons for using the rituals of Shabbat, why haven’t I been? Habit. When at CubeSpace we got out of the habit because when we got home at the end of the week we were too tired for anything other than complete collapse. After CubeSpace’s demise, I think it just didn’t occur to us to change our pattern. But now, it is time to change patterns. It is time to engage with the rituals once again. To make shabbat rather than just letting it happen.

CubeSpace Spiritual Community

Eva and I have one rule we try to abide by: we don’t do CubeSpace work on Shabbat (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. We don’t always succeed, and there is one event a year we know we will be working: BarCamp Portland. We do this for 3 reasons:

  1. It’s a lot of fun.
  2. It’s great marketing for CubeSpace to have 350 people come through.
  3. We aren’t set up to have 350 people come through CubeSpace without us being present.

Nonetheless, it does mean working on Shabbat. Which made me think about the intersection of spiritual community and CubeSpace community.

In many ways, it feels like the CubeSpace community has become my spiritual community: it is the group that it feels “right” to spend Passover with. It is the community I share news with. It is the community I enjoy partying with (see above re: BarCamp). So spending Shabbat this way does not feel entirely inappropiate.

While there is definitely the resting and recharging element of Shabbat, there is also the celebration and joy element. This week, clearly, is going to be more about the celebration and joy. This week, will be about connecting to the community. Partying with some of the folks I see daily, and some I see only once a year, and no doubt meeting some new folks. It is the opportunity to learn something new…and maybe teach something.

Tonight and tomorrow will be a whirlwind of food, fun, friends, and general geekery. I will emerge at the end exhausted, but having had a good time. In Judaism, we most often pray in community. We most often practice spirituality in community. Today, the Portland Tech Community gathers together, and joins in a spiritual event, even if I’m the only one labeling it as such. It will involve our spirits, affect our spirits, which makes it spiritual (the fact that we’ll be drinking spirits is just a bonus).

Shabbat Shalom, all…or at the very least have a raccous Shabbat of celebration.

The Long Week

Life has been unbelievably busy. You can tell because I haven’t been blogging. And this probably wojn’t be a particularly long post, but since I’m here at Beer and Blog, I sort of feel obliged to blog, since I haven’t in the last couple of weeks.

This week has been so long that last night, as I was trying to figure out what to say at the Into Judaism class I was teaching, I was tweeting random passages from the Bible.

This week has been so long that I couldn’t keep track of the various meetings I was having or who was supposed to be in them.

This week was so long that marathoners wouldn’t have run it.

This week is so long that I can’t really come up with anything amusing to say on the subject.

In any case, it has been a humbling week, as I’ve desperately tried to do more than I really could, and discovered I couldn’t do some of the things I expected to be able to do. I got virtually no knitting done.I sat in more hours of meetings than I can count. I understood far less of what was said in those meeting than I should have.

Nonetheless, the week has ended, and Shabbat has come. And everything else is just commentary. A day of rest, a day of restoration for the soul. A day before a new week begins.

Missing Shabbat

I don’t normally post on Saturday, because that’s shabbat and I try to stay off of the computer on shabbat. Today, however, being on the computer, writing this post, may be the closest I get to shabbat: remembering and marking the day by noting the absence. 

Today, we are hosting a conference (unconference) at CubeSpace. Which means we have about 100 people here, in various states of organization, and I’m part of the host. And also trying to do a whole bunch of networking. 

None of which is particularly shabbastic (shabbat-like). [Returning now after major kitchen cleanup]. 

I completely lack the consecutive attention span to write this post. So I’ll try to do it really quickly before someone else comes up with a distraction.

Shabbat used to be something I didn’t compromise on: I didn’t work on shabbat. Unfortunately, like immigrant entrepreneurs a century  before us, we’ve discovered that the job really requires working on shabbat, at least once in a while (a while being most often described as a “month”). 

I miss the old way of doing things, when life really did slow down on shabbat. I felt better physically, and was able to appreciate shabbat more. Now, all too often, my observation of shabbat is noting my lack of observance, which just isn’t that satisfying. 

In any case, that’s my minor thought for today.

Weekend Rabbi

I spent an amazing weekend with Temple Beth Tikvah in Bend. It’s one of the few times when, as I rabbi, I did something that really made a difference that I can talk about. Most of the time, when I make a difference in my rabbinic work, it involves a person, and is their story to tell. When working with a group, I’m able to talk about it a little more.

central-oregon-1

The congregation is just starting out, having hosted spectacular high holiday services last month, is beginning to get around to thinking through what they do the rest of the year. They have about 30 families, which is amazing for a congregation that is only 6 months old and doesn’t really have much going on regularly yet. This weekend, I led services for them, taught some adult ed, and also taught a class for the kids. In addition, we talked a lot, and I did some organizational consulting.

The group of people in Bend is great, and are developing a really strong organization. However, this is a group that doesn’t have much experience starting a new congregation. In fact, the group doesn’t have a lot of experience with startups in general. In contrast, I’m immersed in startup-land, and have worked with a number of congregations in the early stages of development. As a result, I was able to give some advice that they were excited to recieve. How weird is that? I gave advice and it was valued!

Some of it came from knowing a thing or two about startups: you need a vision. You can’t build something unless you know what you are building. Some of it was based on congregational experience: get the religious school

central-oregon-3 online as early as possible, because that’s a big motivator for people to join. Some of it was based on marketing experience: it’s easier to sell a product that exists than vaporware.

The giving advice part of the weekend was fun, but maybe not the most exciting thing I did. This weekend, for my adult education session, I took a risk. I decided to try to teach mysticism.

Mysticism is really difficult to explain, but a fascinating philosophy of life. Mystical texts tend to be very technical, and hard to find a way into without a whole lot of context. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot. I taught Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook on love–and it worked! People understood both the text and mysticism by the end of an hour and a half. And I got to teach a text I really love.

I had a lot of fun this weekcentral-oregon-2end, and sense the congregation did too. I also got to drive into Central Oregon, which is beautiful high desert. I took a few photos on the way back…of the point and shoot variety, since I was driving at the time. But take enough shots, and some will turn out, even if you don’t look at what you’re photographing (and post-production helps a lot, too). So, for those who don’t know the beauty of Central Oregon, there are a few photos accompanying this post.

Sum up of the Week

So we’re heading into Shabbat, and I haven’t posted all week. So the quick recap:

The gloves I was working on to have done by Monday evening?

Looks pretty good, right? Just need to weave in the ends.
Unfortunately, here’s the left hand:

Fail!  Note the lack of a thumb, and there’s no mitten shell either. (It’s almost done now).

Other projects I’ve been working on this week: trying to learn Drupal. This has involved spending most of three days trying to install web servers on various computers, which led to installing various forms of Linux on two computers, repartitioning various hard drives, and basically wasting at least 15 hours.

Also, spent about 56 hours at CubeSpace and did 2 wedding meetings.

I’m delighted that the week is over, and very much looking forward to a shabbat of rest and “Moonlighting” (the TV show, not adding another job).

A Coming of Age Ritual

Somehow, I’ve been running pretty hard recently, and though, on paper, I should be getting enough sleep, I’m exhausted. But there’s a bat mitzvah coming up tonight, and I’m getting ready.

A bar or bat mitzvah is always a somewhat strange sort of Shabbat. The service is led mainly by the kids, but somehow that feels more stressful for me as the rabbi, rather than actually a day off. They always do fine (and I’m completely confident in the young lady who will be leading this evening), but I’m always sort of holding my breath through the entire service.

The coming of age ritual is celebratory, and it’s wonderful for the young adult, the congregation, and myself as rabbi and teacher. It’s a privilege to be part of it, but it’s not so much relaxing, and not spiritual as a prayer experience. It’s inspiring in terms of seeing a young man or woman taking their place in community, but I’m too aware of the performance aspect of prayer to pray with intention.

Nonetheless, I’m deeply excited, and will enjoy it. I will also enjoy getting home tomorrow afternoon, at which point I get to collapse.

Shabbat Sermons & Eva and David Go on a Date

Two completely separate (I think) topics this morning. The first has to do with the sermons I give on Friday evenings. The second, that Eva and I had an actual date!

Once, while in rabbinical school, I was told that Christian ministers spend an average of 8 hours a week working on their Sunday sermons. At the time, I was astounded (I was, at the time, working in a congregation that I served weekly and did prepare a weekly sermon). After all, my sermons tended to be outlines rather than written out, and usually took me between thirty minutes and an hour. Until very recently, I remained astounded by the length of time Christian clergy spent on sermons, and have assumed that maybe they spend so much longer on sermons because it is more of the centerpiece of the service, whereas in Judaism the sermon is a little teaching that gets crammed into the liturgy.

In the last week or two, however, my view has been changing. I realize that while I still only spend half an hour or so working on a sermon, in the sense of putting pen to paper, there is a huge amount of time that gets devoted before that point. I think about what I will say while I shower in the morning or while driving to work. I play with language while I’m walking down the street. I try out ideas as I’m falling asleep at night. All that time begins to add up. I don’t think it comes anywhere near 8 hours, but I begin to see how one could spend eight hours a week working on a sermon (especially if one worked from a finished script, as opposed to notes).

I like working on sermons because it’s an opportunity for me to find new meaning in the text I’m working with (most often the Torah). I like it because it’s an opportunity to figure out what I’m thinking. And I like working on sermons because it’s a challenge to find something to say that is adequately meaningful that I feel like I’m not wasting the time of my congregation by saying it.

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Eva and I may have figured out how to go on dates. Yesterday, we went to see a first-run movie for the first time in longer than I remember. It’s certainly been more than a year. We saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

We didn’t go see a movie the way normal people do. No. We went the way business owners do: an IT company rented the theater for a 9AM showing, took about 10 minutes to tell us about their products, promised to call us to set up a time tell us more about their products, and showed us Indiana Jones. Woohoo!

The movie was very good. Not in an art film kind of way, but in an Indiana Jones kind of way. Fast moving action, plot twists, and, of course, the hat and whip. What more could you ask for?

And we had breakfast together, which is pretty much a rarity also. But it means we had a meal and a movie. We call that a date.

The Week Improved

After my lament of earlier in the week, I thought I should let you all know that, 1, I’m still alive; and, 2, the week has gotten better.

I may be a touch bleary-eyed at the moment, but overall, the remainder of the week has been a massive improvement. The vet prescribed a course of antibiotics of colitis for Diana, and she seems to be feeling significantly better. The new tires, while expensive, do make the car much quieter, and somewhat more fuel efficient. And I had a good afternoon of learning with my bar and bat mitzvah students yesterday, so I’m looking forward to having more group lessons (it helps that a number of them are looking forward to the continuing group lessons).

My only remaining complaint is that I still can’t find the cone of yarn for Eva’s second sock. This is beginning to drive me crazy, but I’ve looked everywhere I can think of. And I really want to begin this sock. And it’s a custom constructed yarn at Yarnia, so it’s not like I can just wander out to the store and buy more. I am getting to the point of going over to Yarnia and seeing whether Lindsey and I can reconstruct the yarn, so the second sock will match the first.

I’m looking forward to Shabbat, though it is very much a working shabbat. Tonight, though I’m not leading services, I’ll be present for the Jew Crew (our youth group) service. They’re leading it entirely on their own, and I’m pretty excited to see what they do. Tomorrow morning I lead services, and then tomorrow night, I’m performing a wedding.

Meanwhile, CubeSpace will be mobbed with people for BarCamp. Eva will be working incredibly long hours this weekend, since BarCamp runs until 11PM tonight, from 9AM – 11PM tomorrow, and from 9 – 3 Sunday. She takes off Monday, but I’ll be back at CubeSpace. I am sorry I’ll be working throughout BarCamp, because it was a lot of fun last year (if exhausting), but there’s only so much one can squeeze into life.

Oh, and Eva is going to be on a local public radio show this morning, Think Out Loud, talking about the economic slowdown and how it is affecting microbusinesses. All in all, life is about as busy as it gets.