Monday, March 20, 2006


I want to write about the trip to the synagogue while the details are relatively fresh in case I want them for a point of comparison later on in the semester.
Before parking we were stuck for a minute behind old people being let out of their car at the entrance. We turned off our cell phones and got out of the car. The building looked pretty much the same as most of the newer churches I’ve been to. An obvious front entrance with a couple of doors and immediately inside an area for talking and meeting without actually having to enter the room where services take place with access to bathrooms. We were directed to a coat room, something conspicuous to me. The bin of flimsy black Yarmulkes was mounted on the wall next to it and I took one rather then one of the two bins which were between the doors we used to enter the service. A women approached Dr. Rein to welcome him to the temple and bid us please enter. He seemed surprised by this but explained we were a class visiting and we’d enter as soon as all of us were out of the bathroom. There were a few families talking in the room we were in and they largely ignored the class. There was a large man talking to most of the families as they entered his elaborate and unconventional dress made me think he was the rabbi, he wasn’t but he did sit facing the congregation in a special chair on an elevated platform. As we actually entered the room in which a girl had already begun chanting in a foreign language a little girl handed us a pamphlet which contained an explanation of that days reading from the Torah. We took up most of a row sort of in the middle of the room. The class before had prepared me for a lot of staring at us, but I noticed only a little. As the room started to fill up I remember noticing how different a lot of the prayer shawls were, and how some of the women had sort of token head coverings while some didn’t. There was more reading from the Torah in Hebrew, the rabbi would tell us “now we stand” or “now we sit”. Some of the people seemed much more familiar with the readings then others, sometimes they joined in without any visible invitation to do so. The girl who read was also way way better at it then the boy. I remember liking the musical way in which they read, but it was hard to listen to it for too long in another language. I starting reading all the cards contained in the back of the seat in front of me. One explained the windows on the right side of the building; they were things relating to Jewish achievements. One explained the days reading from the Torah and then extracted a message from it. One of the pamphlets seemed to be addressed to students visiting like us because it had a list of things you can’t do on the Sabbath and how to act in temple. After that I worried for a little while if my Yarmulke would stay on while I got up and sat down, which it did not which I never noticed immediately. I got the impression the guy behind me was annoyed by how long it took me to get it back on, but I may have been imagining that. Then the rabbi started explaining the days reading from the Torah to us. He stood with his right hand raised and had people call out answers to him for why coverings were important. I found his conclusion divergent from what I‘d just read the “meaning” of the passage to be on the card, from which I concluded that the meaning of building a tabernacle wasn’t actually particularly important. At this point I got the impression that the mitzvahs changed the regular course of the service. I remember both children introducing something. I remember their language being very adult, but not very interesting. They each walked with the Torah, the boy got it out and the girl put it back. Since I was in the aisle the family that walked behind each of them shook my hand and said shalom each time. I just sort of nodded as a response. Then one of the older women present came up to me to ask how tall I was. I think the four tallest people there came with us which seemed very strange. The two children then were congratulated by someone who must have been important, he had sat in front of the congregation all mass, but I don’t remember who they said he was. He gave them each gifts and said something specific about what a good kid they were (the girls was better). He also made a reference to that sometimes relationships come out of sharing this experience, which seemed strange not only since the girl was a good foot taller, but also unprecedented. They ended the service with a couple of announcements about where to go if you belonged to this or that family and a song or something that all the youth were invited to participate in. I saw a guy recording this with his cell phone which I’d just read violates the Sabbath. I hurried to the bathroom, got my coat off of the rack and noticed Dr. Rein was already at his car. That’s all the information I remember.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I just noticed what I think is supposed to be so interesting about the article on the Consumption Rituals of Thanksgiving Day. It is illustrating how “Americans use ritual consumption to construct culture” (83). This claim doesn’t really sound like much, the article made it itself several times before I paid it any attention. However, if one is willing to think about culture the way they think about religion (which this article certainly encourages) that statement has a great number of implications.

In class I’ve heard Dr. Rein say religion may be a word that is impossible to define, like culture or nation. Adding those two as examples of equally difficult things to define always seemed strange to me. Granted they are hard to define, but it never seemed to me as though they were hard to define in the same way religion is. I was wrong though. Those are the comparisons to make. Through the ritual of Thanksgiving Americans are answering for themselves questions as difficult to answer as many of the ones people turn to religion to answer. Or, alternately, through rituals like Thanksgiving we are paying attention to things the same we would to things we call religious. I think it’s interesting to note that this article mentions the use of Christmas in terms of the holiday season, and assigns to it a meaning very different then many of those who celebrate Christmas would, and it backs it up. Looking at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Thanksgiving, in the way it is celebrated, is more about birth than Christmas.

Ritual is presented as creating the beliefs in this article. I agree with that view point and while in most religions the beliefs rituals celebrated are supposed to be clearly defined I seems impossible that it isn’t a two way street. That the rituals themselves aren’t effecting beliefs and much as beliefs effect ritual seems impossible. I mean I know we’ve already discussed not just accepting people’s word for what they believe, we discussed it Monday in fact, but I think this article shows me why in a way I wasn’t seeing before.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I almost said this in class, but its annoying when people start telling cute stories from their childhood. But! I have a blog, it’s already automatically self-indulgent. So, in response to Dr. Rein’s question do we agree that it is necessary but dangerous to compare our religion to that of others, I have this.

I can remember riding the bus home from first grade. Me neighbor, Jason, and I were sitting together playing some half assed version of eye spy. Thanks to careful planning on the administrations part it always took us over an hour to get home from our school which was all of 10 minutes away. We were always doing boring things. Jason used to sometimes draw mazes during lunch and then give them to me to do on the ride home while he watched. They almost never actually had a path through, everything would dead end. I’m still not sure if he did it on purpose or not. I thought he was a pretty weird kid.

Anyway, that day he invited me to go to a ice cream Sunday thingy with his youth group. I was surprised he went to church since I’d never seen him at mine. It turned out he, instead of being catholic, like I then assumed all Christians were, was a Baptist. What’s more he knew what it meant to be Baptist, and when I asked him what the difference between what I was and what he was, he knew. He started telling me all Catholics had got wrong.

This story is getting boring even for me, so I’ll just sum it up. I ended up calling him an idiot bighead or something, and he told his mom on me and we were mad each other the whole next day.

I know this is kind of a silly example, and hopefully adults are more mature when they explore things about other religions. But the same type of danger is there, its easy to get offended when talking about beliefs only one of you have. And its necessary, an understanding of being Catholic is incomplete if one doesn’t know what makes it different.

This seems really unnecessary now that I’ve typed it out. Sorry if your reading this.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I've been trying to think of something really interesting to say about the poems we had for class last time, but since it’s almost time for a new class with new readings I guess I'll just settle for a sort of incomplete set of thoughts.
Lee's poems are depressing, especially the first one, possibly only because it is more simple. There is a great deal of loss in coming to America. The second The Cleaving is beyond me. He makes some mention of Emerson, and I get the impression that the poem is to be a new Song of Myself; One that includes Lee and the other immigrants "too homesick to study" and his parents and his people and the world. But, this is not a joyful self assertion. There is more going on here, and I’m missing it.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Ignore my last post. I wrote that in class. I really didn't except it to work, but, obviously, it did.
I'm not sure what to write about but I thought we had a pretty interesting class on Wednesday. I remember while we were discussing the story I said that in the end he accepts Christianity. That’s obviously not true. Apparently in my mind accepting that many of the principles on which America was founded are Christian is the same as accepting Christianity itself. The family values this country accepts (more or less) are Christian, and Twinkle accepts them as much as the rest of the guests at the party did, perhaps with amusement, but they are a part of her life. Sanjeev doesn't but in the end seems to decide that there’s no harm in pretending, which is in essence what the rest of them are doing.
That’s written poorly, but the point I’m trying to make is that I'm very biased. Accepting doctrines of a religion is very different from believing in it and I for whatever reason didn't notice that in class.

I'm still working out these poems. I'm hoping tomorrow to have something to say about them, but I feel like there’s a lot going on in them that I’m missing.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

this works?