To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Year 2: Second Interlude

Hi, it's me, Daniel-of-2013. Happy (early) Beltane to you, if you celebrate it.

As you may have noticed, I'm kind of fried. I haven't had time to add illustrations in weeks. The problem is, more or less, a combination of the time of the year and parenthood--neither of which I want to complain about, but I am insanely busy now.

I'm a free-lance writer by trade, though I also fill in as a naturalist at the schools and camps my wife works with. She's an environmental educator. All of that is a lot of fun, but it doesn't pay a lot of money and it keeps me too sedentary. So, in the growing season I also work part-time for a landscaper Charlie introduced me to. Last year, I scaled back on a lot of my commitments because we had a new baby and I did a lot of my work for the blog while Carly slept on my lap, but this year...

We had thought, naively, that once we were into the swing of being parents and once she could walk and so forth that we'd have more time available, so I committed myself to this and that...and I was wrong, and now I have no free time at all.

I may have to drop down to just one post per week.

I keep getting surprised by parenthood. Both of us do, even though both of us have friends and siblings who had kids long before we did, so this isn't the first time either of us has been around babies. I'm surprised by how different Carly is from other small children. I wrote about how Aidan bonked Charlie upside the head? He didn't mean to hurt him, of course--Aidan was and still is a very sweet kid--but he has this quiet, independent boldness that gets him in trouble sometimes. He just tries things out. Carly is different. She's not exactly timid, but she's cautious and she's more social. She wouldn't bonk someone on the head because--I think she'd feel it was rude--she'd try to pet you or something.

I mentioned my brother's wife getting pregnant. This blog isn't about my family, but I suppose I should give a couple of updates in the name of satisfying curiosity. Also, to one degree or another, my family has gotten involved in the School, so they may enter the story here and there.

My brother and sister-in-law have produced three children, first a boy and then two girls. So, my nephew is almost twelve, and my nieces are ten and almost nine. I think they are done having children, though there could be surprises. They adore their new cousin. They also adored the School--when I returned to earn my green ring, I brought them on campus as often as I could and they have become Sprouts.

My sister came out as a lesbian some years ago and is in a semi-serious relationship now. I'm glad that she can get married and have a family, but she doesn't know yet whether she wants to. I've met her girlfriend,and she seems to be a pretty cool woman, but we haven't told her about the School, yet.

My daughter is a Sprout, but there aren't a lot of other new sprouts. I feel bad about that sometimes, especially since her cousins are all so much older, and if she has any more cousins--if my sister has kids--they'll be so much younger. My wife and I don't plan to have a second child (though accidents can happen),  but I'd like Carly to grow up with other kids, if she can. So, I kind of hope that some other Sprouts sprout, soon.

All of us are getting together next week to dance the Maypole and have a big party. We're thinking of actually having a lot of parties in May, to cheer ourselves up. For reasons I won't get into, the month of May is hard for some of us, now.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Year 2: Part 2: Post 11: Talking

"I've been talking to Greg about sex" Ollie told me.

We were warming up to go running the other day--now that the sun comes up early and the ice is off the shoulders of the roads, it seems time to get back into running with him again.

"Greg? Why Greg?" I asked.  "And why not Greg?" I added, because of Ollie's tone of voice. He half smirked at me.

"Well, can you imagine Greg with a partner?"

"No," I acknowledged. "I'm not actually sure he's ever had one. He seems so...monastic."

"Yeah, that's it. It's like the blind leading the blind, or..." Ollie frowned. He's so careful with the way he thinks and speaks, and I think he was concerned about accidentally disrespecting blind people. "Like people without flashlights leading other people without flashlights. In the dark." He seemed confused for a moment. I thought of Charlie, last year at Litha, coaching me down out of that tree, though neither of us could see anything, him as confident and trustworthy as ever. I didn't say anything about that.

"So, why don't you talk to someone more experienced? Like, um, Allen?" I asked instead. Allen has three kids, so he must know something about sex, I reasoned.

"I'm not looking for advice on technique," Ollie protested, and blushed. "Anyway, I don't know if Allen can help me. I want to know how to think carefully about sex, how to get beyond either satisfying an urge or refraining from satisfying an urge. Allen's married, so he might not have to think about it. It's easy for him."

"Not if he doesn't want it to be. I can't imagine Allen taking anything for granted. He's a psychologist. And, he wouldn't treat Lo like a, a vending machine."

"No, I suppose not. But are you going to asked Allen about his sex-life?"

"No," I admitted.

"Greg says that the Buddha referred to lust as an 'unskillful state.' That's a very different concept from sin. Sin means simply, without, as in without God. Sin is the state of non-awareness of God. But I don't know what to do with that, other than to not sin, of course. It seems binary to me, with or without, good or bad. But skillfulness...what is this skill? Is it possible for abstinence to become a non-skillful state? Is it possible to skillfully approach physical love? Greg's the Buddhist, and he's always...thinking about things, so I asked him."

"So, things are going well with Willa?" I asked intending to bait Ollie a bit. He blushed right on cue.

"Not like that," he protested. "But yeah, things are going really well."

As you might remember, Willa is Ollie's girlfriend, and presumably the occasion of his wanting to think so carefully about sex. She's a self-described trantrika, meaning that exploring sexuality is a big part of her spiritual practice. Since Ollie thinks that pre-marital sex is sinful, I wasn't sure their relationship was going to work, but they're crazy about each other and almost a year later, they're still together.

I talked to her later and asked her how things were going with Ollie. I didn't tell her about my conversation with Ollie, though of course she knows that he and I do talk and occasionally we talk about her. She told me things were going well. I asked if she was still exploring chastity, but I didn't mean to ask pruriently. Willa is one of several people on campus who talk about sex openly. I might as well have been asking a painter if she was still exploring the color red.

"Yes," she said, slowly. "Though I'm starting to think I might be missing something." She meant missing as in not noticing, not missing having sex. Ollie would have blushed if he said something like that, and I would have giggled, but Willa didn't seem to notice or care that her words might have a second meaning. She's more mature than we are, I think.

"Oh?" I prompted.

"Yeah, well, I think I've been paying attention to having sex--or to not having sex--and not paying attention to Ollie. I thought at first that dating a celibate man would be this great opportunity to explore...a kind of negative space, you know? But I'm starting to think that looking to Ollie to provide an experience of abstinence is as bad as looking to him to provide a positive sexual experience. Like, maybe I've been using him."

"Like a vending machine," I said.

"Yes," she said, looking at me oddly. "Maybe it's time that I do something else with him. But I don't know what that next thing could be yet. I love him, but I don't know what that means."

On a completely different note, Aidan said his first words in my presence this morning. I mean that, according to Kayla, he's been talking for about five months now, if you count "ma" for "Mommy" and "goo" or "juice" and things like that, but I've never heard any of it,until today.

He was with us while we were working in the front beds, weeding and cleaning and so fourth. Kayla wasn't around--she was in class, I think, and Aidan's too big now to sit quietly while his mother studies. He needs a lot of attention, and he needs to be up and exploring whenever he is not asleep. So now people are taking turns babysitting him and he's everywhere lately, tagging along as this person or that takes him to work. Today, Charlie had him.

Charlie's really good with small children. He doesn't seem like he should be, because of how he growls at people and because so many of his interests are so intellectual. This is the man who reads Winnie the Pooh in Latin, after all. But he does read Winnie the Pooh, and anyway, I suppose little kids must seem very much like self-mobile plants to him. He gives them the same kind of gentle, delighted respect. It looks kind of funny to see Charlie carrying around a diaper bag, but Aidan adores him.

We'd all gone out to the front beds and Charlie was starting to explain what we were supposed to be doing, when Aidan toddled over to him, raised his small arms, and clearly said "up!" Charlie bent to pick him up and went on explaining gardening with Aidan sitting in the crook of one arm. He happened to be holding a trowel in the other hand, and as he talked he gestured with it. Aidan followed the moving trowel intently with his eyes. Finally, the boy made a grab for the trowel, nearly flinging himself out of Charlie's grasp in the process. Charlie caught him and let him have the trowel and kept talking as though nothing had happened while Aidan shook clods of dirt from the trowel into the old man's hair.

Finally, Charlie asked us if everything he'd said had made sense to us and at that very moment, Aidan squealed with joy and whacked Charlie upside the head with the trowel, hard.

"OW!" Charlie said, and I could see blood start to well through his short, grey hair. He took the trowel away and Aidan looked at him with such wounded, uncertain concern that I thought the boy was going to cry. "Yes, you hurt me," explained Charlie, ever the teacher. "Trowels are hard and sharp, see?" He held the tool so Aidan could touch the blade. "Don't hit people with hard, sharp things. It hurts them." A first lesson in physics, no doubt.

Charlie set Aidan down and told us to get to work. "And please make sure Aidan doesn't drown in the fountain or step on the rake, ok?" he added. And so Aidan toddled around among us and we made a sort of living fence so he could move more or less freely throughout the crowd of grown-ups. The fountain did, indeed, capture his attention, so I moved over to him, to kind of keep an eye on him and be ready to rescue him in case he fell in.

We don't chlorinate the fountains or anything like that, so they are healthy for animals to use as water features. This one has some algae and water plants growing in the basin at the bottom and a frog had staked out the place as a breeding territory. He'd already scored a couple of times, since the water plants sheltered multiple batches of speckled jelly. The frog had been trilling hopefully along as we worked, but as Aidan approached he fell silent and finally leaped from the fountain rim into the safety of the water with a big splash.

"Frog jump!" Aidan declared, looking right at me.

"An excellent observation! Beautifully reported," proclaimed Charlie from one of the perennial beds. "We'll make a scientist of you yet."

[Next Post: Monday, April 28: Interlude]

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Year 2: Part 2: Post 10: Spring

I tweaked something or other in my back the other day, so I decided to go to zazen this morning, instead of Karen’s exercise class. I suppose I just could have stayed in bed, but I’ve tried that a few times and it just feels weird. My day just begins by six, anymore.

I hadn’t been to the morning meditation group in months, and no, I haven’t sat zazen on my own either, and yes I sometimes feel guilty for that even though Greg says there’s no point in that. It felt strange, but familiar, too. I mean, it felt strange to do something again that felt so familiar. Or something.


I went in, among all the yearlings and a few other senior students, sat down, the bell rang, and I pretty much automatically started counting my breath, just like I used to. My mind cleared and…it was amazing, just this weight lifting off me, like a vacation from myself, and I thought why don’t I still do this? I should really start doing this regularly again (I didn’t realize until later the silliness of daydreaming about how I should start meditating again while I’m supposed to be meditating). And then I followed my breath some more. And then I got excruciatingly bored. I think a grand total of two minutes had elapsed. Fifty-eight more minutes to go.

I don’t not meditate much anymore because it’s boring. Everything is boring sometimes, and everything, including meditation, is enjoyable sometimes. I’ve drifted away from it because there are other things I’d rather drift toward. And, as Greg suggested might be so, I really don’t see the point of Zen meditation…I’m not Buddhist, and meditation isn’t the answer to any of the questions I’m asking at this point in my life. But I do kind of miss it.

Afterwards, Greg spoke to me, which was kind of surprising, because he usually doesn’t speak unless spoken to, unless he’s teaching.

“Welcome back, Daniel,” he began. “And I’ve heard you’re returning to the Island, too, this year?”

“I’m only here until my back heals up,” I told him, somewhat apologetically. He smiled a little and nodded, a kind of little bow with just his head, in acknowledgement. “I don’t think my trip to the Island will be a repeat of my yearling experience, either.”

“No, it won’t be. Experiences generally don’t repeat. And you’re helping Charlie this year, aren’t you?”

“Yes. For the first of several years, I think.” But something occurred to me. “Greg, why don’t you go to the Island? You never go anywhere, do you?”

“I visit my sister sometimes,” he told me. “I run errands occasionally. But no, I rarely leave campus. Somebody has to mind the shop.” I helped him clean up the room. Everyone else had already left.

“Don’t you ever need a vacation?” I asked him. He just looked at me for a moment until I realized staying on campus was his vacation, since the others took all his yearling students away for almost two weeks.

“I do like it here,” he said. “I guess I’m kind of in a rut, but it’s one that I enjoy.” He smiled, picked up his bag, and stepped outside. I followed him out the door, since I didn’t have to shower before breakfast and planned to go for a walk, but then I almost bumped into him on the porch. He’d stopped and was standing still, looking out at a deciduous magnolia covered in huge pink blossoms. It isn’t native, but it predates Charlie on the property and he has allowed it to stay. It has long, heavy branches like reaching arms and its flowers smell very faintly of lemon. It's gorgeous. 

“See?” Greg told me. “How could any sight-seeing trip improve upon that?”

I went for my walk. Spring has sprung, although, as I noticed last year, spring always seems to be just now arriving. It begins slowly, subtly, and continually gets more and more obvious and present so that every week or two for months you look around and think yes, spring has finally sprung. Kit would say that arrival is the nature of spring and that when the growing season is finally, unambiguously here, that is summer.

The red maples have finished flowering now, and the tiny detritus of their male flowers litters the ground here in there in tiny red drifts. But the female flowers are busy producing samaras and the leaves are coming in red—Nature’s first green may be gold, but red maple’s gold is definitely red—and the oaks and some of the other trees are in flower, so whole trees, even large parts of the hillside behind campus, have gone fuzzy with delicate red, yellow, and green.

The trees in the orchards won't start flowering for another week or so. I expect I'll miss most of it  again. A lot of the forest wildflowers are getting going, but for the most part spring is subtle...but that's ok.

The weather has been warm, the soil is dry enough for Sarah's farming crew to work, the Dining Hall has started adding fresh dandelions to their menus, and Sharon has a bowl of home-made candied violets available to anyone at her desk. I think spring should be a thing to look for, maybe.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Year 2: Part 2: Post 9: Gender

We’re getting close to the end of the spring semester now; there’s only two weeks left. I knew this semester was short, but it’s gone faster this year than last. In three weeks I’ll be on the Island with Charlie. I have to get ready. I’m almost halfway through the reading I have to do for it.

And I still haven’t talked Gender Studies, my Friday class with Allen and Kit.

I think I explained how it’s actually two classes, a women’s studies class for women and a men’s studies class for men, that sometimes meet together. But when we meet together it isn’t just a single, merged class (except according to the schedule we will do that on the last meeting). Instead, either the men attend the women’s studies class or the other way around. The first two weeks we were separate, then we started alternating: women’s class; men’s class; separate meetings; men’s class; women’s class; and then the last one will be joint.

In the beginning, I was honestly a little confused in the men’s class. I think a lot of us were. I mean, if the whole reason we have women’s studies is that most studies ignore women, then why do we need men’s studies? But Allen, who teaches that class, smiled and asked if I thought only women could be obscured by sexism? So we talked about that. We talked about how sexism hurts men—less than it hurts women, but still, we did come up with a list of things we’re really glad are changing—what a completely non-sexist society might be like, and how men’s roles and women’s roles are connected, so if men don’t change our roles it makes it harder for women to change theirs. We talked about a lot of things.

A couple of things stand out as interesting or funny. A lot of stuff was funny.

Like, on the first day, Allen said “So, does anyone have any questions or confusion about the plumbing?” He meant sexual anatomy (what “pipes” go where and how they connect, I suppose), and we all cracked up. 

Nobody raised their hands on that question, of course, but Allen actually pressed the point a bit.

“Some of you probably do need to learn a few things about anatomy and physical sex." Again, everybody cracked up. He grinned and held up his hand, as if asking us to hold off on giggling and listen to him. We simmered down. "A lot of people reach adulthood without knowing how birth control and sexually transmitted disease prevention works or not knowing what questions men and women need to ask prior to pelvic surgery. And the scary thing is you don’t know that you don’t know, so you have no reason to go find out.”

So we talked about common misconceptions (yes, some of us were wrong about a few things), and unusual misconceptions (I suppose Dan, who is not me, not knowing girls fart until last year counts), and we drew anatomical diagrams on the board. I don’t think that part would have been funny, except that we were a little uncomfortable so we kept cracking up.

Or, at least a couple of us did. There were guys in the class who could say words like "labia" without either giggling or stammering, but I wasn't one of them. Eventually Allen got tired of it and started laughing at us.

"Ok, ok!" he cried, "I know some of you are still fourteen inside, but can we please...ok, have a big laugh, get it out of your, two, three--VAGINA!" We all burst out laughing, even the mature majority of the class. "Boo!" More laughter. We all simmered down and Allen continued. "Ok, anyone delivered by caesarian section here? Anyone?" No hands went up. "Ok, then, so you all came out of one of these once upon a time, and most of you want to get into another one...these are the bodies of our mothers, our sisters, our friends, and our lovers, so can we please have a little respect!" Except he was still laughing at us, so we weren't quite as chastened as we might have been.

But we did make an effort and I did learn how to talk about women's bodies with a straight face.

Or, the first time we went to the women’s studies class, Kit walked into the middle of the room, welcomed us and then asked, with no preamble whatsoever,

“Have any of you men ever wondered how we handle menstrual hygiene on campus?”

Again, we all cracked up because we were uncomfortable. Nobody responded. Kit smiled.

“You didn’t, did you? Come on, fess up.” We fessed up; none of us had.

“Should we have?” asked Dan, bravely. “Why? I thought you all wanted that private, anyway?”

“Well, all women never want the same thing,” Kit began, “but yes, generally speaking, it is private. But that doesn’t mean you can’t wonder. You wonder about other private things about women, after all.” She had us there.  “The thing is, you live with us, you share bathrooms with some of us, and so you know we aren’t filling waste baskets with used pads or tampon applicators. So that opens up a mystery; if we aren’t using disposable products, what are we using?” She was right; I’d cleaned bathrooms on campus for a year, and never saw any sign of menstruation. And I never wondered about it.

“I don’t know that I’d elevate this to a should” she continued, looking at Dan. “There are a lot of mysteries to attend to in this world, and this one is, after all, private. But almost every woman on campus menstruates, and we have to figure out how to deal with it. It’s a big part of our lives. And I would go so far as to say, yes, you should wonder about women’s lives, even those aspects that have nothing obvious to do with you. Because that’s part of getting to know us as people. And because sometimes you might be able to help.”

“How?” asked Dan. Kit smiled in approval. That was evidently the right question.

“You might be able to offer a female friend a tampon," she began. "You might be able to recognize the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, ectopic pregnancy, or a heart attack, which often has different symptoms in women than men. You might be able to be a good friend to a woman who has survived rape, coped with sexual discrimination in the workplace, or lost a child to miscarriage. Any number of things.”

I don't understand a lot of what gets said in that class, but hearing Kit say that that there are useful things we, as men, can do for women feels really good.

Note; I have certain friends who will have my hide if I don't point out that sexual assault is not a distinctively women's issue; what Kit meant is that a woman who has survived an assault might need a male friend who is comfortable thinking about the perspectives of women.

[Next Post: Monday, April 21st: Spring] 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Year 2: Part 2: Post 8: Easter

As I mentioned last post, in 2001 Easter was earlier than it is this year, although the fact that the days of the week fell on different dates makes it difficult to tell when my Easter post should be, exactly. I’m doing it this week, writing as though Easter Sunday were yesterday.

I just got back from my parents’ this morning—I made it back in time for my landscaping shift, though I missed breakfast on campus. I was at my parents’ place, of course, for Easter. I got there Saturday afternoon, went to church with them on Sunday, and had Easter dinner with them. There were no uncles and aunts this time, like there were for Thanksgiving, but my brother and his wife were there, so we were all together. That was good.

And—newsflash—my brother’s wife is pregnant! My bro’s going to be a dad! It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around, but I’m sure they’ll be good parents. And I’ll be an uncle. I imagine that someday I’ll embarrass this kid at Thanksgiving.

But anyway, we did have a good time, all of us together. We had an Easter egg hunt, with freshly dyed chicken eggs, and everything (I didn’t tell them about the other egg hunt I did this spring, though I did show them my wind-up egg. I said it was a prize for my skill as a naturalist in a contest, I just didn’t elaborate). I don’t think we were going to have an egg hunt, I didn’t really expect to have one, but then my Mom asked if “you kids” wanted to have one. This was just before dinner on Saturday, over a tray of dip and carrots. My sister rolled her eyes.

“Mom, we’re not kids anymore,” she said.

“Yeah,” said my brother, “I’m going to have a kid. You’ve done raised us, Mom.” But she sighed nostalgically.

“I know, but you’ll always be my kids. And you so used to love Easter egg hunts!”

So then we had a twenty minute-long discussion about whether we were too old and whether if we did have an egg hunt it would really be Mom doing it for us or us doing it for Mom, or maybe my brother needed one last chance to act like a kid before he becomes a dad, or maybe my sister still is a kid and we should all do it for her, and just because we’re older doesn’t mean she should have to grow up too fast (though she is sixteen already) and on and on and on. Until my sister interrupted.
“Hold on,” she said, “hold on! This is stupid. Let’s quit arguing about whether we should do an egg hunt and why and why not and ages and everything else. Who actually wants to do an egg hunt?”

And we all raised our hands, even my Dad. My sister-in-law walking into the room just then and asked why our hands were all raised, so my sister explained.

“Oh yeah, I’m in,” she said, and took a carrot.

So, on the way back from Church yesterday, we bought eggs and egg dye and we dyed eggs and hand an egg hunt. We actually had two, so everybody, even my parents, got a chance to both hide and seek. And then it was time for dinner. We had a ham from a humanely raised and slaughtered hog (I contacted the same people who provide hogs for campus), and various vegetable sides (some local, some not), and an egg salad because my mother refused to have to deal with forty-eight hard-boiled eggs without our help on at least some of them. And we talked about politics and who is doing what from our church and whether my sister is going to go to junior prom with this guy who asked her even though she’s not really into him, and on and on and on. And nobody asked me about my school or my religious beliefs and we had a great time.

But about church. It didn’t really impress itself upon me this year, the way the little service on campus last year did. Frankly, the congregation seemed kind of emotionally anemic, with everybody trying to sing quieter than his or her neighbor, and there were a lot of empty seats in the pews even on Easter, and the sermon was entirely focused on how great it is that we can live forever on the New Earth and all I kept thinking of was “but I want to live right now on this Earth.”

I couldn’t see the service anthropologically, as someone else’s beliefs, to be understood and respected, the way I did at the Seder the other day, because I am Christian. These are the ideas I was taught to accept. Except I don’t accept them. They just seem wrong to me, all of a sudden. Wrong as in inaccurate. And I don’t really know what to think about that.

So I got back on campus this morning, and I wanted to talk to someone about it. Logically I should talk to Charlie, but he’s not really that good for discussions because he tends to just listen to your statement and then make a pronouncement about it and that’s the end of it. But I couldn’t find anyone else this morning, and anyway I was really busy. We were getting the window boxes ready for planting later, and there are a lot of window boxes. And then it was lunch time and Charlie disappeared somewhere and I wasn’t really sure who I wanted to look for or what I wanted to say. And then I saw Greg in the Dining Hall, so I asked if I could eat with him and talk a few minutes. He is the Spirit Master for the whole school.

“I think I’m having a crisis of faith,” I told him.

“Good,” he told me. “That sounds interesting.” I rolled my eyes and he smiled at me a little. “You know that faith, as such, isn’t really my thing, right?” he told me. “I’m more action-oriented.”

“Yeah, I know.” I think I sighed a bit. “It’s just…I was raised to believe certain things, and now I don’t, and I don’t even know what that means. I mean, I was also raised to belief it’s important to have faith in certain things, it’s important to believe in certain things, so I feel remiss, now, naughty, almost. But I don’t know if that makes any sense. I mean, clearly it doesn’t make sense to believe in something as a matter of faith if it’s not true…” He smiled at me a little and considered a moment.
“Why don’t you think about what faith means?” he suggested. “That might help you resolve when and where faith is appropriate?”

“You mean, like, it’s definition?”

 “Yes, that’s a good place to start.” He considered again. I used to be scared of Greg. He doesn’t smile very often, not with people he doesn’t know well, anyway. He looks kind of severe, and he doesn’t seem friendly. I often see him at breakfast, eating by himself. But I think, now, that maybe he just isn’t outgoing. Anyway, I’ve seen him asleep on the couch with his glasses all askew, and somehow I haven’t found him intimidating after that. There is something relaxing about his presence. He really listens. 

“Faith,” he continued, thoughtfully, “it is considered a virtue. Perhaps it is good to be faithful, quite aside from whether you have something good to have faith in? It is not exactly the same thing as belief, though it is similar. You are Christian, are you not?”

“Methodist,” I confirmed. “Or, at least I was raised that way.”

“Christianity is interesting, in my opinion. Your central figure, Jesus Christ, is not simply a teacher or a role model, but an embodiment of the divine. So your living relationship with the divine must therefore be a relationship with Jesus, as a personality. I can see why whether Jesus is a real, living Person would be a much more pertinent question than whether Shakyamuni was an historical figure.” He meant the Buddha.

“Was he?”

“Shakyamuni? I do not know and do not care. I think he probably was, though his story has clearly been heavily mythologized. Someone did claim to have found his cremains some decades ago. But it doesn’t really matter. Buddhism works, whether the Buddha existed or not. But about Jesus…”

“You are right. We are supposed to love Him, and to feel loved by him,” I said. “And I want to, but lately I’m thinking that a lot of the other things I learned in Sunday school that doesn’t make sense to me, that I just don’t believe. So I’m wondering if even Jesus is real. And I used to love Him so much when I was little, before I got distracted by things. Sometimes I think someone has to be real, if people love Him. Other times, I think maybe humans just made Him up, so we’d have someone to love.”

“Love is a powerful need,” Greg acknowledged. “It seems to me that to love is even more necessary to the soul than being loved. Making up a perfect person to love, someone who could deserve the devotion of which we are capable in a way no fallible human could, is certainly something we humans would do. And it would work, in a strictly psychological sense.  Daniel, I cannot help you. I cannot tell you whether Jesus exists or not, nor what it should mean for you if He does not. I suggest you sit with this, and let the mud settle in your mind. However, if you wish to love with all your heart, if you wish to be devoted, I can suggest a course for you aside from finding a perfect person.”

“What’s that?”

“Love without caring whether those you love are worth it or not.”

[Next Post: Friday, April 18th: Looking Around]

Friday, April 11, 2014

Year 2:Part 2: Post 7: Passover

Note: Thirteen years ago, both Easter and Passover were a little earlier than they are this year, roughly speaking this week. Of course, the days of the week fell on different dates and that complicates things, but the point is that I’m writing as though the first night of Passover were earlier this week and today were Good Friday.

This year, I’m going home for Easter. I’ve arranged to borrow a car and I’m heading home after my landscaping shift tomorrow. My Dad is glad about it. I don’t think he really believes that the service on campus counts.

But Easter isn’t the only holiday I’ve gotten more organized about myself this year. I asked around, trying to find out what was happening this year—I was thinking there might be a Good Friday service on campus, but there wasn’t—and I discovered that Passover is this week, too, and that some people on campus were having a Seder, and that you didn’t have to be Jewish to go. So, I went.

I’d never been to a Seder before, though I read up on them before I went so I sort of knew what to expect. I’m not sure how typical this Seder was, though, since a lot of the people who went aren’t Jewish and I’m not sure how many of the others are Jewish anymore.

It’s funny, there aren’t any people on campus now who are Jewish the way that Ollie and Archie are Christian, although I’ve heard there have been some in the past. I’m not even one hundred percent sure that there was anyone at that Seder as Jewish as I am Christian. What I mean is…I believe in Jesus and I read the Bible and I go to church sometimes, but I also go to Charlie for spiritual teaching and I don’t think he’s been to a Christian service in a very long time. I don’t think my Dad is entirely wrong to worry that I might be switching religion, I just don’t think there is anything wrong or worrisome about what I’m doing—or I wouldn’t be doing it. So I’m sort-of Christian. I’m broadly Christian, but I’m other things, too. And I don’t think that there is anyone on campus who really has Jewish beliefs to even that minimal extent. I mean, I know for a fact that a lot of them believe in multiple deities, which seems to be the number one thing Jews are not supposed to do.

And yet, I’d say almost a quarter of the people on campus self-identify as Jews. There are more Jews here than Christians in that sense. But when I say I’m Christian, I’m talking about what I believe. When they say they are Jewish they are talking about who they are. It’s an ethnic identity.

What do they believe? All different things, I’m sure. I don’t know most of them very well, and when I say “almost a quarter” I am estimating—there’s a lot of people on campus who I don’t know if they consider themselves Jewish or not, because we’ve never talked about it. But there are people who call themselves “Jewitches,” there are Hebrew polytheists who do their best to follow some version of the religion Israelites had before they were Jews, there are Qabalahists who may or may not be Jewish in any other way, and there are Wiccans, Buddhists, non-denominational Neopagans and people who won’t say what they are but who all celebrated Chanukah as children and all call themselves Jews.

I think for a lot of these people being Jewish is an ethnic identity and maybe also a kind of habit, the way that a lot of people on campus celebrate Christmas but don’t believe in Jesus—except they don’t call themselves Christians. For others, they might be pagans, but the way they are pagan is shaped by their being Jewish. Like the Hebrew polytheists, obviously, but also there are people like Aaron, the librarian.

 I haven’t talked about Aaron much, because I haven’t talked to him much. Mostly I only interact with him when I need his help as a research librarian, and he is very good at that. But I do know a little about him, things I’ve noticed and things I’ve heard, and we have talked a few times. And I know that part of the reason he is a librarian is that studying texts is very important to him. He makes a basic assumption that scholarly study is itself a religious act, rather than simply going to books as a source of spiritual ideas. I could be wrong, but I think that is a Jewish assumption. And Aaron turned up at the Seder.

There were about twenty of us, not that I made a count, at least five of us visitors who aren’t Jews in any form. It was interesting. The whole thing is basically a teaching event, a transmission of this sense that we (meaning the Jews alive today) are part of a larger body of people who were slaves in Egypt and were liberated by God. I remember thinking, years ago, that it must be very strange to consider yourself God’s chosen people, to believe that you have this contract with God where He’ll take care of you if you belong to him, and still have all these awful things happen to you. I mean, so many people have tried to just get rid of the Jews over the years, it’s awful. But this week, at the Seder, I realized maybe I’d misunderstood the deal. God hasn’t kept the Jews safe or made them particularly prosperous, but they still exist. They are still here. That’s not something that can be said about a lot of ethnic groups from a few thousand years ago.

The whole idea of a diaspora—I remember, in American Minority Perspectives, being struck by how different the Jewish perspectives were from the personal history that Greg told. I mean, Greg is Japanese-American, but he can’t help that. He has no interest in maintaining his Japanese heritage for his own sake. He’s very insistent that he is American. He says his mother came to this country to become American, and that is what he wants to be. I think he would have forgotten his Japanese ancestry a long time ago if he did not have to cope with other people constantly reminding him of it. In contrast, the Jews left their country hundreds and hundreds of years ago and they are still Jews.
And I think the Passover Seder is why, or a big part of why.

You eat, you drink, you hear stories, you ask questions. It’s a deliberate transmission. I happened to be the youngest person there, so I got to ask the questions. I really didn’t know the answers, not completely, so it was interesting.

But for all that, I didn’t really believe the answers—I didn’t believe the we part. That night wasn’t different from all other nights for me. I am not Jewish.

Ultimately, I was there as an outsider. I found it interesting in a more or less anthropologic way. And that got me thinking.

I mean are these the chosen people? Did God really make a deal with them that if they followed His law and remained loyal to Him then He’d take care of them? If I really believed that, then wouldn’t I have to become Jewish, too? It would seem stupid not to. So do I really believe that these people are all deluded? No, I can’t quite buy that, either. And these people on campus who are so insistent about their Jewish identity don’t follow the law—the Jewish religious law—so obviously they don’t believe it, so why are they Jewish? Why I am I a Christian when I’m willing to learn a way to God from people who aren’t Christian, a thing I’m pretty sure good Christians are not supposed to do? I know that Kit says that it’s possible for apparently contradictory things to be simultaneously and equally right—she even has a pretty elegant illustration of it, involving people traveling in opposite directions to reach the center of the same circle, because they started on opposite sides. But “Have no other gods before me” seems pretty unambiguous to me, and not one of these supposed Jews on campus, and only a small handful of the campus Christians actually obey that one.

Which makes me wonder, do we really believe in God? Or do we believe in going to church or being Jewish, or whatever else? And should we believe in God? Is God real?

I‘ve been asking people about this. I know there are people on campus who are very religious but, while they don’t quite say so, I’m pretty sure they don’t believe that any of the gods and goddesses they talk about really exist. They talk about them like psychological constructs whom they worship in order to obtain psychological benefits and facilitate personal growth.

I asked Allen about it, but of course he didn’t give me a straight answer. He said that at least religions are a response to human psychological needs, that the need is real. But he didn’t say more than that. So I asked Charlie.

“I prefer to think that God is that which is real,” he said, “and that our job is to find out what that reality is and what it means so we can relate to it properly.”

[Next Post: Monday, April 14th: Easter]