Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Service of Do We Use the Tools We Have?

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

You might’ve heard this parable before, but it’s worth repeating. Ian Bassin retold it on Nicolle Wallace‘s show “Deadline: White House” on MSNBC the other day. Bassin is cofounder and executive director of Protect Democracy.

The parable starts: a minister is drowning and prays to God to save him.

A canoe comes by and the paddler invites him to jump in. The minister refuses and says “No thanks. God will save me.”

Next a motorboat stops to pick him up. He thanks the helmsman, passes on the ride and says, “God will save me.”

Finally, a helicopter buzzes overhead and drops a ladder. From a megaphone the pilot urges the minister to climb the ladder to safety. Again, he declines the offer and says, “God will save me.”

He drowns.

When he gets to heaven, he asks God why he didn’t save him and God says “I sent you a canoe, a motorboat and a helicopter and you turned down every offer. What more could I do?”

The point, said Bassin, we often have the tools to solve our issues and challenges, yet we don’t use them. It also has to do with stepping out of our comfort zones. [I’d be afraid of climbing that ladder to the helicopter but, as my mother used to say about other issues, “it’s better than the alternative.”]

Years ago before social media I had a friend who was an uber talented interior designer who asked me for suggestions for attracting new clients. She already belonged to the right organizations and designed rooms at decorator showhouses. I said she should show before and after photos of her work that addressed design challenges and present them—taking questions—to the groups of affluent people. She was attractive and articulate but refused to do any public speaking.

On the other hand, I shudder to think of opportunities I followed up on that I shouldn’t have. I took a new business meeting a few days after my husband died. I should have passed as goodness knows what version of Jeanne Byington showed up. It turned out to be a nonstarter as the business owner dragged me back for months, changing her goals each time. Eventually, after the umpteenth proposal, she sent me $500, thanked me for my time and said she wasn’t ready for PR.

What do you think of the parable? Have you missed opportunities or grabbed at inappropriate ones?

Service of Watch Your Menu & Words

Thursday, July 28th, 2022

When meal planning for guests we’ve learned to deal with gluten free, vegetarian and vegan requirements as well as allergies to citrus, a range of vegetables [for those with diverticulitis], and avoidance of garlic, onions or cilantro, on top of countless other foods distasteful to some.

Over the last few decades if you didn’t ask a first time dinner guest if there were things they didn’t eat it was at your peril if you wanted to be a considerate host. The focus on special food needs has exploded to the point at which it is a chore to mix friends. Some eat no meat; others only eat meat and dislike fish. Still others won’t eat plant-based concoctions or cheese and eggs and I haven’t touched on victuals on the NO list due to religious rulings. Yikes.

Now that we’ve learned to cope with food issues–meet at a restaurant might be easiest–words are today’s hottest minefield. We must filter them to get along. Here’s what I mean: I referred to another person’s son. You mean “child” I was corrected. The offspring in question is a they. And around atheists, watch yourself if you hear a sneeze. It has nothing to do with Covid-19. Never say “God bless you.” You’ll offend.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m so old fashioned or some would say without spine or principles because I welcome any greeting that’s said to please.

I wrote in March 2021 about the private NYC school whose guidelines admonished parents to use grown-ups, folks, family or guardians instead of mom and dad and caregiver instead of babysitter or nanny. That was just the start of their list of alternative words so as not to upset others.

A freshman dorm, “Big Haus,” at SUNY Purchase, a college in Westchester, N.Y., will change its name to “Central” because the original moniker, voted on by students in 1989, reminded some of prison.

I recently heard of an employee who quit after two days because she claimed those training her were disrespectful. She felt that in showing her the ropes they were speaking down to her. She said, “I am a college grad.” So are the two who were training her. Her leaving was a good move for all concerned as she wasn’t in a business that welcomed overly sensitive employees who expected to be able to do their own thing without direction.

How, when entertaining at home, do you handle menus when you’ve invited people with a range of food preferences? Have you learned to watch your words? Do you feel sometimes that you’ve lost phrases that represent your tradition? Do these requirements or demands to be super sensitive to others have the opposite effect and rather than bringing us together do they feed and/or set the stage for our seemingly insurmountable political divides?

Service of When What Calms You is Out of Reach

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

Open for contemplation.

Congregants at synagogues, mosques, temples and churches, passionate sports fans and shoppers, movie and concert goers, bar hoppers, exercisers, museum and restaurant enthusiasts and travelers are up a creek these days. There are no religious services or sports competitions, and favorite roosts  that calm, uplift, cheer and/or distract are closed: movie houses, gyms, museums, concert halls, stores, bars and restaurants.

Even hugs are out.

I was looking at a favorite cooking show on TV yesterday but can’t find the ingredients so is there any point?

What do you substitute and how do you maintain your equilibrium when your favorite distractions and sources of solace are on hiatus? What do you look forward to? What’s an anxious person to do?

AKC Museum of the Dog NYC

Service of Family: No Marriage, No Children=No Family & Unfit to Serve?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

I was at an auto dealership in upstate New York last weekend speaking with an insurance company customer service rep. Our salesman was arranging for the transfer of our insurance to a new car and when done, he passed me the phone.

After “Hello”—I’d expected a quick “confirming that you’re Jeanne Byington leasing a car,”–but instead the rep bombarded me with questions starting with “What’s your PIN number?” I panicked, looked at my husband and we spat out a few options. The rep interrupted me and then asked, “What is the name of your child?” I answered: “I don’t have one.” He said, “You have to call back. I’ve been logged out.” Click.

So we called back, this time logging in with a PIN number, which worked thank goodness, and we reached a pleasant woman who took the information she needed from the salesman and she then asked me: “What’s your child’s birthday and year of birth?” I told her I don’t have children, but decided to share the birth info of my stepdaughter to move things along. That was the right answer. The company, its staff or computer had assumed that everyone has a kid and that my husband’s daughter–he uses the same company for a range of services—was also mine.

I immediately thought of a comment I read on Twitter by author Father James Martin, @JamesMartinSJ,  regarding the replacement of the fired House of Representatives Chaplain Father Patrick J. Conroy: “The idea that a priest can’t be House chaplain because he’s not a ‘family man’ is absurd and borderline anti-Catholic. Priests have families: mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews. Also, by that yardstick, Jesus Christ wouldn’t qualify.”

He was responding to a remark by Mark Walker, a Republican representative from North Carolina who is on a committee to find a new chaplain. According to The Hill, Walker said: “I’m looking for somebody who has a little age, that has adult children, that kind of can connect with the bulk of the body here, Republicans and Democrats who are going through, back home the wife, the family—that has some counseling experience…”

I take Walker’s comment a step beyond religion: Is Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor unable to do her job appropriately because she never married nor had children yet her judgments impact citizens?

Nobody knows for sure why the Chaplain was fired. According to America Magazine’s Michael J. O’Loughlin who wrote “House Republicans rebuff investigation into firing of Jesuit chaplain,” New York Representative Joe Crowley noted that “Mr. Ryan and other Republican members of Congress were unhappy with the chaplain for delivering a prayer in November they viewed as partisan.” Father Conroy reported to The New York Times that after he offered the prayer on taxes, Mr. Ryan told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”  While the Republican tax bill was on the table Father Conroy had urged the planners not to create “winners and losers.”

O’Loughlin wrote that “Mr. Ryan told Republican colleagues on Friday that some lawmakers felt Father Conroy was not providing appropriate pastoral care to House members.” I heard Representative Peter King from Long Island, NY disagree on TV news with this allegation.

So why did it take the House seven years to react if this was so? In his work as pastor at numerous churches as well as chaplain at Georgetown and Seattle Universities, for how many people had he provided pastoral care without complaint?

In a subsequent interview with Walker, Scott Wong reported in The Hill in “Conservative leader: Next House chaplain should have a family” that the congressman said “When you walk the journey of having a kid back home that’s struggling or made some bad decisions, or when you have a separation situation or your wife’s not understanding the [congressional] schedule, having somebody who’s walked in those shoes allows you to immediately related a little bit more than others.”

To be effective, must a grade school teacher have children; a female psychiatrist counsel women exclusively, or an obstetrician be female? Is an unmarried man or woman or a couple with no children, regardless of religion, without family? Is a doctor who doesn’t suffer from his/her specialty unqualified to treat that disease? Are there certain jobs unmarried or childless people are ill-equipped to have?

Service of Gratitude II

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

I’m gratified when an article in a legitimate source such as The Wall Street Journal confirms one of my observations. In this case, it’s about gratitude and how it has been lost among a large swath of people, young and old alike.

For years I’ve been part of a committed group of association members who vet applications for college and grad school scholarships—as much as $10,000 plus generous fringe benefits. I’ve often written here about the scholarships or the winners. They pass three reviews: Every application is read by two members. Those recommended for the second level are interviewed on the phone and if that conversation goes well, the student meets a committee in person where final decisions are made. The competition is stiff. Some of the high school senior through grad school students are remarkable.

This year I interviewed college seniors attending grad school and only one sent me a thank you. Last year none of the students I spoke with thanked. “So what?” say you? “Nobody thanks these days. Where have you been?” you may think. So this: If two students receive equally high recommendations to move to the third and last review and one has written a thank you as short as “tx,” and the other has not, the grateful one gets the opportunity to be interviewed in person; the other loses her chance.

But the ramifications of not expressing gratitude are far greater than missing out on a scholarship.

In “An Attitude of Gratitude,” in the Journal Jennifer Breheny Wallace wrote: “As Dr. [Richard] Weissbourd sees it, parents were fed a myth that if children feel better about themselves—if parents praise them, cater to their every need and make them feel happy—it will help them to develop character. ‘But what we’re seeing in many cases is the opposite: When parents organize their lives around their kids, those kids expect everyone else to as well, and that leads to entitlement,’ he says. And when children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are left feeling grateful for nothing.” Weissbourd, a psychologist, is faculty director of the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

“Researchers find that people with a grateful disposition are more thankful for a wider variety of things in their lives, such as their friends, their health, nature, their jobs or a higher power—and that they experience feelings of gratitude more intensely. For them, gratitude isn’t a one-off ‘thank you.’ It’s a mind-set, a way of seeing the world.”

John Wyeth

This approach reminds me of the award for niceness instituted at the Harlem Link Charter School named to honor the memory of John Wyeth who had worked there for a decade and who was the epitome of the award. I wrote about it a year ago.

Wallace also included observations of David Rosmarin, director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. He mentioned how gratitude takes a place in most world religions.

I attended a memorable Bar Mitzvah service many years ago in which our friend’s son Julian told the congregation about his good deed that was part of his Bar Mitzvah preparation. He described making sandwiches to offer homeless men and women in Newark, N.J. and how hard it was to get out of his father’s car when they arrived in the city and what it was like to approach and speak with the destitute people he met.

Helping less fortunate people became a turning point for one family in the article. The floors in a house that one of the children helped to restore as a volunteer were in such bad shape you could stand in the home and see through to the ground. When this child returned home “she got down and hugged the floor and said, ‘I’ve never been grateful for a floor, but now I am.’”

Wrote Wallace: “The researchers found, in keeping with past studies, that general gratitude was associated with less anxiety, less depression and greater well-being. They also found that religious gratitude—toward God—was associated with additional reductions in anxiety and depression and increases in well-being.”

It’s never too late to teach gratitude to a child and Wallace noted the obvious: The most effective way is for parents to practice what they want a child to do such as thanking when junior takes out the garbage or holds open a door.

Wallace wrote that parents can “spur their children to appreciate and reflect on the time and thought behind the gifts and kindness they receive, as in: ‘Jack really knows how much you love football. How thoughtful that he gave you a jersey of your favorite team’ or ‘Wow, Grandma just took a five-hour train ride to come and see you perform in that play.’”

Do you think expressing gratitude eventually leads to feeling it and that it really has positive effects? Does a person—parent, boss or client–appear to be weak if they thank which is why they don’t do it? Do you know anyone who never thanked and then suddenly began to? Do you have examples of someone who expressed gratitude to you that bowled you over?

Service of Freedom of Speech

Monday, March 16th, 2015

I woke up on Sunday to a rip ‘roarin conversation on WABC Radio’s Religion on the Line between co-hosts Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack and their guest, Michael Meyers, president of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. The topic: The University of Oklahoma students who chanted a racist song on a bus. Two, the leaders, were already expelled from the school. Their fraternity chapter that was evicted from its house on campus was closed by the national organization.

I felt that the co-hosts  [pictured at right] were surprised by Meyers’ arguments.

Meyers said that the University president, a government employee, had no right to expel anyone because of this country’s commitment to freedom of speech. He noted that the incident happened off campus and was brought to the world by a video that nobody has to look at–they have to take action to see and hear it.

He felt that it was up to the University to do a better job of educating its students, not expel them for their words; to teach them to express their opposing ideas so that the words are challenged by words, not by punishment. He said that it’s not up to the government to teach good manners. He mocked the university president for being overly dramatic when he claimed he had a sleepless night over the incident.

He granted that as a private institution the fraternity was within its rights to punish and close the chapter.

Meyers [photo left] agreed that racism and anti-Semitism are wrong, but, he recalled, even Martin Luther King Jr. said you must let people speak.

The message of the Rabbi and the Deacon was that in religious communities, people have a moral responsibility to address [and punish] hateful or demeaning comments. They parried Meyers’ comments and said that words can be as dangerous as actions. The Deacon, who is also the principal of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, pointed out that he is able to expel students for such actions because he works for a private institution.

While co-hosts and guest clearly didn’t agree, the segment ended with laughs by all when the Deacon said he’d like to continue the conversation with Meyers over dinner and the Rabbi, known for his quick wit and love of teasing, suggested that Meyers remember to bring his checkbook.

Where do you stand?

 

Service of Being Cut Off at the Pass

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Last Sunday Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack mentioned on their radio program, “Religion on the Line,” that there were no clergy at the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum dedication.

This was an unusual omission, they observed. They reminded listeners of the interfaith memorial service organized by clergy at Yankee Stadium a dozen days after the attack. It was meant to help heal. So what had changed since the citizens of the New York metro area–and the country–craved spiritual support?

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Left, and Deacon Kevin McCormack

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Left, and Deacon Kevin McCormack

I didn’t watch the museum’s opening ceremonies and wasn’t aware of this, though I was surprised to hear it, given that prayers or spiritual thoughts are often a part of memorials at a graveyard.

What came immediately to mind? This scene, a total conjecture: The event planners thought of everything and someone influential came in at the last minute, cut off at the pass their arrangements regarding clergy participation and made a crucial change based on a snap decision. It’s happened to me and to others all the time and in all sorts of ways—not just at events.

Leonard Bernstein did it to Aaron Copland. In the Bard College Conservatory of Music notes in Sunday’s program, Peter Laki, visiting associate professor of music, quoted Bernstein writing Copland about the latter’s Symphony No. 3: “Sweetie, the end is a sin. You’ve got to change [it].” Laki continued: “Bernstein proceeded to cut 10 measures from the concluding section.” Laki wrote that the cut version became standard, but that on Sunday the audience would hear the last movement as Copeland wrote it. It was glorious.

Lionel, a fictional character on the British comedy “As Time Goes By” suffers indignity and fits as his script–and life–are cut to shreds and then foolishly built up by a California TV production crew.

Back to real life when John McCain ran for President, Senator Joe Lieberman was his first choice of vice president but the Republican Party axed that plan. You know the rest.

Has something you’ve planned, written or designed been cut off at the pass? What was the result? Why do you think that the clergy of any stripe was omitted from the 9/11 Memorial Museum dedication?

 

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