Garage Sale Reflections

I proposed to my wife over thirty years ago when we were both in grad school, poor but happy in a small midwestern city. My mother-in-law to-be telephoned her relatives in Canada to inform them of the upcoming nuptials and they asked the obvious question: what do they want for a wedding gift? Without consulting us or her husband, she replied, “Silver service.”

For thirty years, my wife and I have dutifully wrapped and boxed a least twenty pieces of silver service and schlepped them around the country as we moved for jobs. We cannot remember ever using one piece although my wife swears that we must have served on silver at least once. My only memories are pulling out the silver, moaning over the tarnish and wasting an afternoon polishing the pieces before wrapping them in fresh plastic wrap and putting them back in the cabinet.

We are moving again but this time we are paying for the move ourselves. After packing and unpacking the silver into cabinets and cupboards to be conveniently forgotten for years I insisted, the silver goes. We never use it and I am done polishing it. Thus began a series of conversations that culminated in a garage sale on a Sunday morning.

Downsizing has been a process. The back corners, the utility shelves and the closets were searched. Once we decided the task was insurmountable and someone else’s fault, we rallied our energy and started. The first weekends concluded with piles of junk on the curb. The weight of paperwork, notebooks and outdated materials of one Ph.D., one D.D., three M.A.’s, four undergraduate degrees and several careers was alarming. The unsalable was depressing. Metal for salvage was set aside for those entrepreneurial souls who cruised the neighborhoods on certain nights. By Monday morning, some of items were gone and others were dutifully thrown into the back of the garbage truck.

The house was purged and the garage was refilled. The digital notice went out and in the early evening the night before the sale, I nailed a sign at traffic light at the top of my neighborhood. Everything from the backyard was moved around to the fence for quick setup. The early morning alarm was set.

All the items were arranged for display on the asphalt of the driveway. I euphemistically referred to the furniture, the housewares, cd’s, silver, and other items as “crap” as in, “I put all the crap out; let’s see if it sells.”

By midmorning, I no longer thought of the items as crap. I had been blinded by my privilege. The couch, love seat, stuffed chair combo that had worn poorly was offered for free because bedbugs are an issue in my area and no reputable organization accepts them now. A family came somewhat early, asked about the furniture and claimed the set. A friend had phoned them, telling them of the offer. They took off all the cushions and then began calling everywhere to find a truck or van. In the late afternoon, we loaded the furniture in the back of large pickup belonging to a friend of a friend. The family was exhausted but content.

The gas grill went. The dresser was purchased by an employer for a woman who had no money after paying rent on an empty apartment. A woman who ships or delivers goods to poverty-stricken homes bought a box of bedsheets, mattress covers, bed ruffles, and tablecloths. We had a long conversation about the lack of supports. Her friend bought the mini-fridge for a house kitchen that only had a stove. More than one grandparent swung by searching for tools for their grandsons who work construction for a living.

Few if any want used books. No one wants dated stereo equipment either.

Almost everything went. Most of the items went to people without much means rather than the professional resellers that trawl garage sales early in the morning. Everything we sold was in working order. People needed what we had to offer, from tools and home goods to school supplies.

We had expected to make a couple hundred dollars with the assumption that we did not want anything we offered for sale to go into the landfill; better to sell it than dump it. Whether we realized what we had done, we had priced everything or repriced everything to get it out of my house into other households who would use it. I told the family who bought my gas grill where to get their propane tanks filled at the best price. I tied the eleven-foot extending ladder to the roof of a young woman’s car, after she walked her toddler in his stroller home first.

In Hebrew, business is called maseh u’matan, give and take. Nothing was priced to make a profit but I made a goodly one nonetheless. Everyone who chose to speak with me was treated with respect and the respect was reciprocated every time. People walked away with a smile and I smiled with them. The young man who purchased my lawnmower must have needed it because the relief on his face was evident when I quoted the price.

Their need struck me. Several of my visitors walked over from one of the main avenues only a few streets away. I must pass their homes daily, never giving them a thought or even a glance. As we talked and bargained, late model SUV’s trundled past, heading out of the neighborhood, their occupants staring at us as they passed. People said “thank you” and shook my hand. We exchanged names, neighborhood updates on traffic and congestion, and political commentary.

I probably gave away too much and priced lower than I could have. However, what I received in return for used goods that I no longer wanted was more than worthwhile. Said one man as we discussed the cushion-less couch in the mid-afternoon, “You understand; you have a good heart.” I truly got more out of my garage sale than profit.

As for the silver-plated serving pieces that started this process, on my wife’s advice, I swept them up into a box and sold them in bulk for a quick price to the purchaser of the dresser. I placed them in her car to be doubly sure she took them. There was a happy dance on the driveway when her car disappeared around the corner.

Response to Charlottesville

Having lived in David Duke’s home state of Louisiana for two years, I can tell you what he did today. He woke up and got to work, as he has done every day since he decided to spread his message. The man neither paused nor did he let defeat deflate his drive or let success give him pause through all these years. He may be cheering and celebrating today yet he was on the phone, posting online, and planning his programs, intent on his goal just as he has done every other day.

He is a racist, a bigot, and an anti-Semite but the First Amendment protects his right to spew his hatred.

What about you? What about me? Do you and I have the same depth of passion, but for justice and right? After all, fighting for climate change legislation is tough in a fossil fuel world. Explaining racial injustice and raising awareness of the economic injustices of energy policies to communities that do not want to hear facts and reason is a stubborn climb. Holding proudly to one’s faith in a cynical world can be a daily hurt. Are you still fighting?

This missive is not about the Neo-Nazis and the White Supremacists though. This message is about those who have the passion to fight for what is right, good, and godly, about those who stand up to the evil and hate. These people are our family, our friends, acquaintances, workmates and our members-in-faith.

One died and nineteen more lay wounded in the Charlottesville confrontation. Many, many more though, people of all colors, creeds and faiths, marched; they held the lines, and shouted down the hatred. Their passion brought them forth and their courage kept them going. The citizens of Charlottesville refused to accede to hatred, to acquiesce to murderous rage. Instead they welcomed those who hold beliefs of equality, justice, and freedom for all of God’s children. Together, they gave the voices of hatred no quarter and no measure of comfort to broadcast their message of intimidation and confrontation.

Evil only expands when it is allowed, when people of goodwill do not stand as a bulwark against the malicious tide. Silence, apathy and vacuum are tacit permissions to continue to fill the streets with hate-filled rhetoric. The streets of Charlottesville were not silent though and intimidation was met with spirited determination.

What about you? What about me? Are we going to sink into the sofa cushions or lean back into our computer chairs, and watch passively as a few good souls contest a contagious fear and paranoia? Whether the summons is the Hindu call of Gandhi, the Christian call of Martin Luther King Jr., or the beckoning of the ancient Israelite prophets, the universal demand of justice is broadcasting loud and clear across the land.

Will you and I answer the call? Shall we answer with unequivocal passion?

“Then I heard the voice of my God saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? Then I replied, ‘Here I am; send me.’”  Isaiah 6:8

Here I am; send me.

Immigration 30 Jan 2017

Waiting for the train into the city, I overheard two people talking with the casual loud volume long attributed to Long Islanders while we waited on the platform. “Thank God, I did not have to fly out yesterday,” the first one said. “The airport was a mess.”

“Yeah,” said the other, “the getting in/getting out was ridiculous.”

My spirit sank into my belly, listening to these two adults discuss the spontaneous protests that broke out at JFK airport yesterday when President Trump’s travel ban was put into force. They appeared not to have a care about the issue of immigration and morally reprehensible nature of the executive order. Their only concern was selfish inconvenience. The protest spread across the JFK property, blocking lanes and parking garages, splashing the headlines, but these two did not want to discuss the politics that provoked it. To me they were ostriches with their heads in the sand.

Then I received an email from a foreign journalist trying to track down one of the board members of my organization. The reporter informed me that my board member was overseas and found herself barred from returning to the United States. She is Muslim and the reporter wanted to interview her. Frantic emails over twenty-four hours went unreturned. The board of directors bounced back and forth, debating what we could do besides pray, to help our stranded friend and compatriot. The terrible numbness of helplessness appeared on the edges of the conversation.

This morning we heard from her. She is okay and her company has provided attorneys. On the advice of her attorneys, all information is being kept confidential for the moment until they give us clearance to speak. No promises though.

My dismay and disgust with this unconstitutional and racist order did not grow when I had a name of someone I know affected by this evil decree. My abhorrence had already reached a critical mass. This morning I am left with planning an organizing initiative on behalf of my board member and praying that I do not have to use it.

Speak out. Demand that your community leaders go on record opposing this executive decree. Remind your state and national leaders that their party affiliation, Republican and Democrat, will not shield them from the repugnance in the streets of their districts. Insist that your clergy denounce it publicly. Remind your friends and acquaintances that there is no more time to hide one’s head in the sand, hiding behind misplaced partisan loyalties. Remember as well, this was only the first week of the new presidency.

Adelphi invocation

We begin this commemoration with a small admission of truth. Every human being in this amphitheater has known failure, has known defeat and experienced moments of humiliation. The truth is that no one achieves even the slightest measure of success without slogging through the morass of insecurity, uncertainty, panic, and self-doubt. This is how human beings are built; this is how great human beings are built.

The joy of this moment was years in the making. The academic success each of you celebrates is all-the-more sweet when you reflect just how hard you had to strive, how far you had to traverse, how much you had to sacrifice. You are surrounded by family and friends who stood by you, encouraged and helped you, and even got out of your way when you hit your stride.

May the Divine Reality, called upon by many names:

The Great Spirit,

The Father in Heaven,

The Holy One Blessed Be He,

Allah,

Buddha,

The Dao,

One All Pervading Spirit,

and Brahmah,

Lead us from ignorance to Knowledge
and from darkness to light;
Move us from the fear of failure to the celebration of life.
To our Adelphi Graduates from all of the faculty and administration who have gathered here for your commencement:
May the ideals you have come to believe become the truths you live.
May kindness, justice and mercy be your friends.
And with your new knowledge and your new degrees, may you bring blessing to this world.

Amen.

 

Amen

‘”Amen.” It is not a natural utterance. You must learn to say it.” (Kaddish, Leon Wieseltier, p. 468.) Many believe that amen is a statement of confirmation, as in “this is my life – amen.” Others believe that amen is a statement of affirmation, as in “this is the greatness in my life – amen.” Those who study the word a bit more closely understand that amen contains a strong element of fatalism, as in “Is this my life – amen?”

To recite amen with conviction, the proclaimer must take a long journey. The present has not context without the immediate and often the far past. The journey begins by revisiting the past, not with nostalgia but with clarity. The journey continues with the present and where one stands now and just as importantly, why. Then there is the future and one’s hopes, expectations and fears. Bring all of these explorations together and the word amen falls easily from the lips.

Sound so simple on paper, simply do this or that. Yet amen is the hardest word a person will utter. Amen.

Interfaith Relations snapshot

Interfaith relations in the United States is a convoluted mess of perceptions, international conflicts, and xenophobia. The Pew Trust has released their latest survey of American attitudes towards various religions and no one scores particularly well.

As anyone who works in the field of interfaith relations will confirm, there is a vast difference between doctrinal relations and personal relations between clergy and between informed laity. The doctrinal is always more contentious as mistrust and triumphalism infuse the statements of faith and belief. These relations are usually led by Defenders of the Faith

The best and most productive is the one-to-one relationships between believers of one tradition and another. This is a self-selecting group who meet other traditions a variety of reasons. Some want to explain themselves, some are curious to learn what others believe and a good number seek out other faiths in hope of better informing their own religious beliefs.

Religion can build bridges. Religion should build bridges and yet, religion often does the opposite. This is what Pew found:

The task of Taking Nude Pics

Over the long weekend in the USA, an Indian hacker released nude pics of A-List celebrities on 4Chan and on Reddit, large social networks. An uproar ensued over privacy, personal rights, and widespread prurient interest in examples of naked females. The hacker is fleeing incarceration and has promised more stills to anyone willing to pay in bitcoins.

Pictures of naked people are “naughty” as the Brits would say. Many artists would argue that eroticism of the human form is a severe and limiting use of the body. The nude body can express a universe of emotion and of ideas that have little to do with sex. This episode has no redeeming artistic value though. The release of these photos is exploitation and profit.

While human life is upheld as the utmost of sacredness, the human body is not treated the same. Judaism does not recognize shame for the naked form nor vanity of its presentation in a non-exploitative circumstance. God gave you this body and because it is God-given even with its flaws and imperfections, the body is inherently good.

The body is a tool. It holds hands and manipulates tools. The body acts out deeds of love and friendship and raises up to meet threats and adversity. This is how we were created.

Modesty is a much maligned virtue these days until someone’s nude pics are posted are the internet against their wishes. Celebrate your bodies with those you love and avoid sharing or even the possibility of sharing with the rest of the world. This advice does not rise to the level of a religious dictate, the suggestion is simple common sense.