Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Glow Worm and Spike Jones

I've been reading a blog written by someone who recently took a break in his history lessons about a city nearby to think about lightning bugs. I grew up knowing those little bugs as "fireflies" and learned a song on the piano during my lessons in childhood titled "The Glow Worm," yet another reference to "lightning bugs" albeit in their larva stage. As they mature, they are called "glow flies" by some. While I was reading the blogger's post, I not only thought of my piano playing days, but the song as interpreted by the late, great, Spike Jones (not to be confused with the person Spike Jonze.) While tracking down a version of this song on, I came across the song being sung by The Mills Brothers, a popular group back in my childhood. That's version was probably when I first heard the song, as my parents liked The Mills Brothers. Then there was the Spike Jones version. If you've never heard of Spike Jones (and his band of City Slickers) and you like parody songs, Spike Jones was famous for them. My parents were fans of Spike Jones, so I grew up hearing the performances on vinyl records, but never saw Jones and his band perform live. My father told me that those live performances he saw during his military service in World War II were like a three ring circus with so much going on during the performance it was dizzying. The music, mostly songs from the 1940s onward would often start off in straight, lush orchestral arrangements of the chosen song, sometimes with a vocalist, then in a matter of minutes, disintegrate into a form of musical chaos, silliness and laugh-until-you-cry (especially if you were a child) madness. When my parents died, I inherited those albums and still treasure them decades after first hearing them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Laid off, again

To borrow and slightly re-write a phrase from Lennon & McCartney: "I got the news today, o boy..." When I actually had heard the news circulating about cutbacks happening due to the economy, despite my hopes, I knew it was just a matter of time until the axe fell for me. In my working history which spans some three decades, I've been laid off twice before, due to budget cuts related to the economy taking a downturn. As always, it starts with a meeting with the boss I have at the time and the phrase: "I have some bad news...." Consequently, I get a knot in my stomach every time the boss I have at a job says "I need to talk with you." It never gets any easier, even when the job I'm losing this time (a government-related position) is one I was overqualified for from Day One. It was supplemental income, so at least this time I'm not totally out of work. Yet. I have another job to rely upon which I notified today about the need for additional income. My boss there said "Sorry about you being laid off from that job, but we could really use you more here since things are getting busier." So, there's that, with hopefully no more bad news in the near future.

Fortunately, none of this affects my love of writing (that's job number three...with sporadic income involved--so I've never been able to view it as self-sustaining income, but self-sustaining in the personal satisfaction area of my life.)

I'm very grateful that I will be able to continue to bring in a steady salary this time. In the past, it was frightening to lose a job and not have one "in reserve." Perhaps I've learned from past experiences the need to have another job as back up.

I feel for those losing their jobs in other areas and hope that they are fortunate enough to find something quickly in a declining economy. Here's hoping the gloomy economic outlook passes faster than currently predicted

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Journey through Judaism

"Good Shabbos," "Shabbat Shalom." These were greetings I learned from two separate temple congregations I attended in my fifteen year journey through Judaism, the last decade of which I dedicated myself to Judaism by the act of conversion.

Normally, I am hesitant to discuss my spiritual journey, because I think of such things as personal, individual matters. I'm not an evangelist seeking to convert people to my way of thinking. But in light of the recent news related to Hamas, the Gaza and Israel, which has extended to organizations seeking membership of "We stand with Israel" between Christians and Jews, I thought I would share the story of my journey through Judaism. Any reader of this, I ask only one thing. This is my journey, not yours, so I would like respect shown to what I share.

I became interested in Judaism at a young age by way of several paths. One was learning early from my Christian parents that without Judaism there would be no Christianity. Jesus was Jewish. But that brings up another matter I've learned over the years: the perception of the man known as Jesus, the historical and theological aspects meshed with cultural aspects, myths and legends. But that's another topic of focus.

The second path which brought me to Judaism was, as with others, study of the Holocaust during the twentieth century, and I did, indeed take coursework related to that historical period, one of the worst in human history. Notably, it began with the diary of Anne Frank, which has been revised over the years as more details have been released (and I own each new revision.) But Anne Frank was part of a traditional European view of Judaism which was rather alien to me as an American. Of course, her family's suffering touched me deeply.

When I started college, my journey through various religions gained momentum. I attended a Jewish temple but felt a bit of an outsider because I didn't know that much about the culture beyond what I'd read. While the temple is Reform in spirit, (the more liberal branch of Judaism) like other small temples in the area outside of major cities, the congregation tends to be an amalgam of those raised in the Orthodox tradition, the Conservative tradition (the more moderate) and the Reform tradition. Various views accompany such a mixture in one group, but that doesn't make it bad. Just different.

Years later, when I committed to Judaism by conversion, I had no intention of leaving it. I'd studied with a rabbi to whom I had to journey several hours because he was in another region than where I lived. I shared some of my thoughts on the transformation and he provided feedback--the humorous aspect of this study was that I had read the texts he suggested over a period of time when I wasn't actively seeking conversion. As I joined another temple congregation, also small, and like the first, without a full-time or even part-time rabbi, I tried my best to adapt to a congregation which relied as many small congregations do, on lay-leadership and monthly visits by rabbinical students (who are often referred to as "rabbis" or "teachers" by congregation members...but I think that title should be reserved for those who make it through the difficult learning process akin to seminaries known by Christians. But that's just my view.)

I became involved in lay leadership of Shabbat services on Friday evenings and inquired into a program aimed at deeper lay leadership training known as "para-rabbinical studies," though it has gone through many name changes over the years. While the congregation with which I affiliated did not discourage me, they did make it known that they had functioned quite well for years without a person with para-rabbinical training so that they felt I should just do the training if I wanted it, it wasn't necessary for the congregation. It was a double-edged view. I wanted to serve my congregation, my Jewish family in a broader sense than just Friday evening services, so I felt the training wasn't thought of as necessary but it was what they knew. I was supported in my attendance at the regional conference where several thousand Jews attend to worship, to learn and to become an engaged community for several days. It was an awe-inspiring and deeply satisfying experience for me spiritually.

As time passed, I found that the congregation to which I belonged had a much more "help society as a whole" approach in their thinking than one of weekly religious observance or spiritual inquiry. This concept was not, of course, a bad one, but it was not what I personally was looking for in my own concept of community. Perhaps this was related to their own upbringing, I don't know. But it was rare to find many people at the weekly services unless it was the monthly visit by the rabbinical student, and of course, during the time known as the High Holy Days (or Holidays) in the Jewish Year, or an event like Passover. It reminded me a lot of those Christians I'd known who go to Church twice a year: Christmas and Easter. Likewise, sports took a greater significance in the life of many members than did weekly services or spirituality (as it has in my experience as a Christian member of a congregation,) so the small congregation attendance was very small during some sports seasons, and sports, not spirituality seemed to be the topic of interest.

I did meet people who enriched my life, but my spiritual life, always more introverted than extroverted languished because I had only one other person (also a convert) who engaged in spiritual discussions with me. When I decided to leave the congregation after much prayer and meditation, I called up my friend who like myself was a convert, and broke down in tears as I discussed my difficult decision with her. Fortunately, our friendship remains beyond the bounds of spiritual interests.

Perhaps if I had been more "extroverted" or been a member of a larger Jewish congregation, I would have found a home for life. I blame no one for what happened, but I did return to the religion in which I was raised, and fortunately a denomination which allows a person to think differently than some Christian denominations. As a resident of southern Louisiana both in college and for a few years following, I heard many stories from "ex-Catholics" or as they sometimes call themselves "recovering Catholics." It is something to which I cannot relate. But that is another "journey" story.

Do I regret my journey through Judaism? Not really. The end result was not what I would have liked, but knowing myself as a spiritual seeker, I reconciled myself to following my heart, or as one friend has summed up such a journey: "Go where you are fed spiritually."