Category Archives: Environment

A Christian learns from the Jewish Community

First appeared in The Daily Star newspaper, Oneonta, New York

The human proclivity to classify coffee as rich, dark, light, bitter, smooth, also classifies religion: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, the list goes on. Moreover, within each of those denominations we find factions: orthodox, modern, non-denominational, even inter-denominational.

Aside from the dirty laundry of religion that gets aired frequently—as it should—we can look into the face of faith and discover many layers, giving it a depth that shows no end.

With faith, not agenda, at the helm, the future of religion shows adaptability. At the time of this writing, First Baptist Church in Oneonta is continuing its mission locally and throughout the world in a new church building.

Established in 1834, First Baptist Church served faith from the corner of Chestnut and Academy streets for eighty years. “We moved 30 yards away, to a smaller place at 73 Chestnut Street,” said Philip Hulbert, church deacon at First Baptist Church. “Our tradition of focusing on a spiritual mission, along with making the building available to the community will continue with the time and resources we have today.”

The larger original edifice is currently in the process of being sold to Chabad of Oneonta, a Jewish organization. Once the legal process is complete, the building will again be a vibrant part of faith. As for symbols of sacredness, Hulbert said, “First Baptist members selected items and brought them to the new edifice.”

More interested in sharing spirituality than symbols, Hulbert added, “First Baptist Church welcomes people of all faith. Church services are at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, with a concurrent Sunday School.”

The art of embracing people of many faiths is also seen in the Chabad organization currently meeting at 28 Walnut Street. Co-directors, Rabbi Meir and Fraidy Rubashkin welcome interested minds no matter what their background.

Husband and wife, Rabbi Meir and Fraidy depict an orthodox appearance, however visitors find a respect for a diverse range of how Jewish laws are observed. “We don’t cater to any group. We are all God created, to be loved and cared for,” said Rabbi Meir. “The Chabad Center has a unique founding principle that all persons offer something good and that all can be leaders.”

???????????????????????????????Accommodating the Jewish Student population, Chabad Oneonta adjusts to the college schedule. It began nearly three years ago when the Rubashkin family moved to Oneonta from Brooklyn, New York. Students have found family away from family at the Chabad Center.

“We have three young children and have fully invested ourselves in the center,” said Rabbi Meir. “The number of visitors to the center has grown so dramatically, it was natural to find and work with First Baptist Church members to purchase the historic building.”

Rabbi Meir, 28-years old, came with a background in Yeshiva education, “It was discussion style learning,” he said. “As I got older, studies became intense and focused on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study.”

Meir grew up in the Midwest, attending rabbinical schooling in Canada and New Jersey. He brought to Oneonta a compelling, upfront, alive, attitude. “The students know I’ll open the door if they knock at 2 in the morning,” said Meir.

The students also know they can contact the Rabbi and Fraidy through Facebook. “We use technology for good. We are not separate from the world but make the distinction between heaven and earth with the goal to infuse spirituality into earthliness,” said Meir.

A Chazak newsletter is printed twice a year and information is found online at www.chabadoneonta.com highlighting a quote from Maimonides (Jewish philosopher, 1135 – 1204): One good thought, one kind word, one good deed, can change the world.

The term Chabad covers a wide definition today, from a philosophy to an organization. In the mid-20th century, Menachem M. Schneerson, the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe turned Chabad into a dynamic and geographically diverse religious movement in Jewish life. “We don’t need to lessen our religious convictions in the modern world,” said Meir. “We encourage participation in good deeds and observance of God’s commandments.”

When non-Jews think of Jewish traditions, Hanukkah comes to mind. But, “Hanukkah is a minor festivity,” said Fraidy, raised in a home grounded in the Chabad philosophy. “Hanukkah is misunderstood because it falls near Christmas, which is an important holiday for Christians.”

The major holy days on the Jewish Calendar are: the Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), Passover, Shavuot (The Festival of Weeks) and Sukkot (The Festival of Booths).

According to the Jewish calendar, on the 25th day of the month Kislev, year 5775 (December 17, 2014) Chanukah, or Hanukah begins. It commemorates the successful revolt by Jews during the Greco Roman period, more than 21 centuries ago. The Jews took back the Jerusalem temple. During the rededication, they found only a single cruse of oil to light the Menorah. Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil burned for eight days.

During Hanukkah, also termed Festival of Lights, celebrants light a single flame on the first night, two on the second, and so on until the eighth night when all eight lights are kindled.

“We give gifts to the children, however, Hanukkah is time for family,” said Fraidy. “This year will be quiet because the college students will be home for winter break.”

But in general, quiet, the Chabad Center is not. Every Friday evening when school is in session, Shabbos (Sabbath) dinner is served to an average of 87 students per night.

The women and men are divided. Fraidy and the women begin with candle lighting. She covers her eyes and welcomes light into the home. “We also teach the children at a young age the importance of giving,” said Fraidy. Coins are dropped into a box, the pushke, to collect and give to the poor.

Rabbi Meir goes into the other room with the men for prayer that pumps the soul.

“Then we eat,” said Fraidy. Students volunteer to help serve warm Challah, all types of salads and dips, piping hot chicken Matzoh ball soup, tantalizing chicken, Kugal and endless deserts.

Added to the feasting is singing, prayer reading (in Hebrew), and a mini-talk from Rabbi Meir on a subject grounded in the Torah. There is no reluctance to voice aloud at high decibels the prayers.

During a Shabbat celebration last month, State University Oneonta, alumna, Jillian Vell, 23-years old visited. “My sister, Samantha, also came because tonight has an Israel theme,” said Vell.

“We grew up with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father,” said Jillian, seemingly undaunted by different spiritual paths. “When growing up, I chose to attend Jewish school, my sister chose public school. When we went to college, I came to Oneonta and became involved in the Hillel Jewish organization on campus, and was happy when the Chabad Center opened.”

Vell remembered a year when college was still in session during Hanukkah. The Chabad Center worked with Hillel at Oneonta State and other groups, to light a large Menorah on campus. She said “It was fantastic. About 200 people came. We had prayers, donuts and cider. Dr. Steve Perry and Dean Dr. Susan Turell were there.”

Chabad Oneonta also hosts Girls Night In, Boys Night Out, Ski Trips, Cosmic Dodge Ball, Passover Seders, and more. Funding comes from tax-deductible donations and planned giving. It is Chabad policy that each center is self-supporting. In the summer months, Rabbi Meir also leads a tour group to Israel.

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Keeping thoughts straight

Sometimes I wear my shirt backwards. And, no I’m not ten years old.

I wake in the morning, get dressed, and work through the day. When I’m undressing at night, I notice the shirt tag going up over my head. Alas. I can crack myself up.

Keeping my thoughts on straight is more important to me.

Divine knowledge has taught me not to get thoughts backward. Start with God, not with humans, for my answers. Start with Love, not anger.

From 21st Century Science and Health:

“It is backwards to believe that anything can overpower omnipotent and eternal Life. This Life must be brought to light by the understanding that there is no death, as well as by other graces of Spirit. We must begin however, with the more simple demonstrations of control, and the sooner we begin the better. The final demonstration takes time for its accomplishment. When walking, we are guided by the eye. We look before our feet, and if we are wise, we look beyond a single step in the line of spiritual advancement.

“When judging Christian Science, sanction only such methods as are demonstrable in Truth and known by their fruits. Classify other methods that suggest futile or backward behavior as did Paul in his great epistle to the Galatians, when he wrote as follows:

“’The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’[1]

[1] Gal. 5:19–23

backward shirt

Using the purchase power of wisdom

Yesterday after church, we had to pick up a few groceries. Inside the store, Christmas stuff peeked out of every shelf. Holiday food, little gifts, cutesy decor.

Marketers are pros at appealing to the masses.

The music, the bright colors, the desire to be a part of the fun—all play into our purchasing.

It was a test of my self-discipline not to buy items I don’t need.

It’s unnecessary to spend too much and buy into things we don’t need or want. We can change our ways, we can repent, and use the wisdom God gave us.

From 21st Century Science and Health, “Repentance is more than contrition or feeling really bad. It must be lived out with sincerity. Effective repentance reforms thinking and enables human beings to do the will of wisdom.

“There are many self-help books on the market that assist us in yielding to a Higher Power, however “mind-cures,” or “mental medicines” that operate through human mind or the earth’s energy are as material as conventional medicine. The treatments don’t break their own barriers and only try to mimic divine Science. This is similar to when Moses had Aaron throw his staff on the ground before Pharaoh, and the staff became a snake. Imitating Aaron, Pharaoh’s cohorts threw their sticks down to become snakes, but Aaron’s snake swallowed the copies.[1] The system of divine Science is purely mental. We must embrace spiritual Mind with its power to cure. God, Love, Mind, is the healing factor. Christian Science rests on the conception of God as the only Life, substance, intelligence, and the only factor in the healing work.

“To reach heaven, the harmony of being, the divine Principle of being needs to be understood and the talents[2] given to us by God must be improved. God is not separate from the wisdom bestowed.”

[1] Ex. 7:8–12

[2] Matt. 25:15; Luke 19:13

keep-calm-and-keep-it-simple-20

Winter is here

snow at cle elum 2014He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. Ps. 147:16

The rim of an abyss brings insight and farsight

???????????????????????????????My husband and I took the day off last week to visit an aunt who lives more than 3 hours drive away. Blue sky, colorful tree leaves and off we went.

Near Ithaca, New York, we noticed a sign to Taughannock Falls.

On the way home, after a fun visit with our aunt, we stopped at the waterfalls. Pronounced Tuh-GA-nick, Taughannock falls carves a 400 foot deep gorge through layers of sandstone, shale and limestone that were once the bed of an ancient sea. With a 215 foot plunge, this waterfall stands three stories taller than Niagara Falls.

A narrow trail around the rim of the abyss was hiked by sturdy visitors so we decided to follow.

We didn’t bring water so when we discovered the hike was much longer than we were aware of, we had to make a decision to return the way we came or continue on around and circumvent the entire abyss. We asked a gentleman who was walking his dog and concluded we could make the entire hike.

Following Christ isn’t about following physical footsteps, but about following wisdom, insight, friendliness, patience, and common sense—spiritual qualities we all can access and manifest.

From 21st Century Science and Health, “The divine demand, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,”[1] is scientific, and the human footsteps leading to perfection are requisite. Individuals are consistent, who, watching and praying, can “run and not grow weary…walk and not be faint,”[2] who gain goodness rapidly and hold their position, or attain slowly and yield not to discouragement. God requires perfection, but not until the battle between Spirit and flesh is fought and the victory won. To stop eating, drinking, or being clothed materially before the spiritual facts of existence are gained step by step, is not legitimate. When we wait patiently on God and seek Truth righteously, Spirit directs our thought and action. Imperfect human beings grasp the ultimate of spiritual perfection slowly; but to begin aright and to continue the strife of demonstrating the great problem of being is doing much.”

[1] Matt. 5:48

[2] Isa. 40:31

Taughannock_Falls???????????????????????????????

Don’t get trapped in the time warp of tradition

The “boom and bust” phenomenon has conditioned my mind to be wary of getting trapped in the time warp of tradition.

Boom and bust is an obvious manifestation that nothing in this world remains forever. What was once all-important, grand and amazing, can easily fade into oblivion.

Traditions parallel the boom and bust spectacles.

I’m all for tradition, as long as it doesn’t become a trap that confines my common sense or spiritual growth. Staying out of the trap requires mental diligence. For example:

holiday dinnerI grew up with my family traditions of never opening presents on Christmas Eve and not attending Christmas Eve church services. Three generations of my family went to bed at a reasonable hour on Christmas Eve and got up to open presents before a Christmas dinner.

When I first got married, I learned about my in-laws family tradition of opening a few special presents between the 8 p.m. and midnight Christmas Eve church services, at which they participated.

Get out…I thought. I tried it a couple of times. I liked the church services but the routine of opening presents late at night verified my instinct that staying up late makes for grumpiness. When we had our first child, I put my foot down and declined to wrap my baby up and drive to a relative’s house to open presents when we should be sleeping.

“But, it’s family tradition,” I was told.

The guilt tactic worked for a couple of days until I rationalized that this “family tradition” has only been occurring for one generation, a young one at that, my husband’s generation.

Thankfully my husband didn’t squawk and we started the new tradition of attending the early Christmas Eve service and going to bed at a reasonable hour without the added excitement of present opening. He did not insist on his current tradition and I did not insist on my old tradition.

Traditions fall away, whether by choice or force. Circumstances force change therefore traditions will reflect change, and we want to choose to change for the better. We want to watch the human mind.

The human mind gets sucked all too easy into the eccentricity of time warps as if the passage of time is suspended and what happened yesterday, or 100 years ago, or a thousand years ago, is today’s reality.

Busted.

The only way a tradition is kept alive is by revising and reinventing it to fulfill today’s needs. In other words, the way to keep a tradition alive and useful is not to allow it to become a trap.

Our human mindedness needs common sense. The tradition that met a need yesterday won’t meet the need today. This is why repeating yesterday’s inspired words may not heal today, or why the pill that worked yesterday may not work today, or the yoga move today may be miserable tomorrow, or the yoga move miserable today may be perfect for tomorrow.

The human traditions are not priority. Spiritual mindedness is priority.

Our spiritual mindedness needs wiggle room, it needs to be encouraged to flow out and express itself. It can never be limited to time or time periods or traditions.

Divine Spirit inspires our manifestation of life, truth, and love. By design, we express life, truth, and love, not traditions. Our expression may look attached to human traditions, but they are not controlled by those traditions.

It isn’t a point to try and eliminate traditions because no matter what we do it comes across as a tradition. The point is seeing that our spiritual mindedness has never gotten sucked into the trap of time warped traditions. Our spiritual mindedness is alive, colorful, useful, healthy, and beautiful.

We can base our practices and traditions on the spiritual truth that God never repeats the same manifestation, but expresses creativity, practicality, wellbeing, and joy.

tradition african dance

Passenger Pigeon broadens definition of extinction

passenger pigeonThe last passenger pigeon died September 1, 1914, a century ago. Her name was Martha and she died alone in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Unlike past mass extinctions (think dinosaurs), caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us — humans.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Passenger Pigeon presentation at the Woodchuck Lodge, the cabin where Activist and Naturalist, John Burroughs, lived from 1910-1920.

We learned Burroughs (1837-1921) grew up when the passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America. As a boy he was spellbound at the spectacle of untold thousands of them descending on his Roxbury, New York farm. He wrote, “The naked beechwoods would suddenly become blue with them, and vocal with their soft childlike calls. The very air times seemed turned to pigeons.”

The passenger pigeons flew in large colonies. LARGE. So large they oftentimes darkened the sky as they soared and circled overhead. The ostensible abundance of pigeons aroused people to freely reveal their baser instincts of gluttonous devastation. From 1800-1900, people slaughtered the pigeons in every way imaginable.

Even people who hated to kill any living thing were sucked into the unfolding extinction of the pigeon, through complacency. Burroughs, probably conscience struck, wrote later, “In the fall of 1876, out hunting for grouse, I saw a solitary cock sitting in a tree. I killed it, little dreaming that, so far as I was concerned, I was killing the last pigeon.”

Burroughs didn’t kill the last passenger pigeon in 1876, but by 1900, there were only a handful left. The last confirmed sight of a pigeon in flight was in Indiana, April 3, 1902. Burroughs, aroused from complacency went on to lobby for what later became the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, protecting all nongame birds today.

I contemplate this whole scenario next to my knowledge of what I read in Science and Health, first written by Mary Baker Eddy in the 19th century.

The idea of a different kind of extinction comes to thought. From 21st Century Science and Health, “Sputnik and NASA changed the world view when launching into outer space. Setbacks happened, but courage set the precedence. Consequently, outgrown philosophies, based on what physical senses say, have become extinct. The physical law of gravity can’t define us. Space exploration, thought expansion, bravery, and open-mindedness, continues.”

Interestingly, the philosophy: once an animal is extinct it is gone forever—is becoming extinct.

September’s Smithsonian Magazine reported, “A handful of naturalists and molecular biologists believe that we could one day undo what happened by re-engineering the bird’s genome from preserved specimens and a closely related extant species.” The de-extinction proposal is being debated.

I now reflect on this from Science and Health, “We want to carry the day against physical enemies—even to the extinction of all belief in materialism, evil, disease, and death. Pure metaphysics insists on the fact that God is all, therefore, temporal substance is nothing but an image in human mind.

“The Science of being shows it to be impossible for infinite Spirit or Soul to be in a finite body, or for person to have intelligence separate from our Maker. It is a self-evident error to suppose that there can be such a reality as biological animal or vegetable life, when such life always ends in death. Life is never for a moment extinct. Therefore Life is never structural. Life isn’t established through levels of organization, and it is never absorbed or limited by its own formations.”

passenger pigeon swarm

“Christian Science requires us to improve our intentions. Hatred is to become extinct through kindness. Lust is conquered with purity. Revenge is triumphed over with charity, and deceit is defeated with honesty. Starve errors in their early stages if you would not cherish an army of conspirators against health, happiness, and success.” Science and Health

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