Monthly Archives: January, 2012

Real Controversy

January 31st, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

Forget Gingrich vs. Romney; forget the Keystone pipeline and recess appointments without a recess – a truly controversial issue recently reared its head again. I speak, of course, about sixteen year old Laura Dekker’s successful solo circumnavigation, granting her the title as the youngest sailor to do so.

Well, actually the completion of her trip generated no controversy. Why not? The reason this wasn’t headline news was that her trip included no Maydays or other crises.  After winning a court battle with Dutch authorities who attempted to stop her because of her age, Laura headed out and finished her voyage in just about one year. While her exploit may not be standard fare for sixteen year olds, neither is she utterly unique. In June and July of 2010 I wrote two Musings (Outrage; Split Opinion) about sailor Abby Sunderland’s less successful attempt. Her trip did indeed become the main focus of outrage for a few days that summer when the media enjoyed ratcheting up suspense about her survival. Very few of my Musings have generated such a stormy response.

Few things arouse a good society’s passions more than children being hurt. In its essence, that is the motivating factor behind the pro-life movement. Those who favor abortion also want to protect children; they disagree on the definition of ‘child’; not that it is wrong to kill one. That is one of the reasons why as sonograms and science make it harder to dismiss a fetus as simply a clump of cells, fewer young people are staunch pro-choice advocates.

However, we can focus overly much on protecting our children’s bodies without gauging how much we are crippling their spirits. We live in a society where threats of law suits turn playgrounds into physically safe but infantilizing places and where school and government edicts intrude on the rights of parents to assess and make decisions for their individual children. I know many of my readers are appalled at the idea of a sixteen year old single-handedly piloting a sailboat. Why couldn’t she just play a simulated video game of an around the world trip?

While most people agree that the government should intervene where children’s well-being is threatened, that sentiment can be a dangerous one. There is general consensus that beating a child until he is unconscious is abusive while insisting on piano practice before computer time isn’t. However, it is harder to agree on the huge gray area between those extremes. Parents are imperfect beings; some more and others less so. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “No one pretends that parents are perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that parents are the worst people to raise children except for all those other choices that have been tried from time to time.” I, for one, am glad that the decision to let Laura sail was made by her parents rather than by the Dutch government. 

If you are in the Charlotte, N.C. area, I hope you can join us for one or our events there.  I’d love to meet you

Don’t Ask – Do Tell

January 31st, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

I don’t suggest that driving a Lamborghini resembles riding a skateboard. However, there are similarities; for instance each has four wheels. I don’t suggest that seeking a wife resembles hiring an employee. However, there are similarities; for instance both require a decision on whether a long term relationship would work.

There is no shortage of advice for serious young men courting purposefully, including lists of questions he could pose to the young lady in order to get to know her. Likewise, anyone can find lists of suggested questions to ask a prospective employee in order to get a sense of how that individual might work out.

One problem, of course, is that those very questions are available to everyone and any reasonably alert candidate can devise suitable answers to the anticipated questions.

Let’s learn a superior interview method from Abraham’s chief of staff, Eliezer, sent to select a bride for Isaac. In Genesis 24:21, Eliezer suspects that Rebecca might be the right woman, but is not yet certain. We would expect him to continue his due diligence, perhaps inquiring about her background. Instead, he presents her with expensive jewelry! Isn’t that a bit premature? Furthermore, the Torah spends many words detailing the jewelry’s precise weight.

…and the man took a golden ring weighing a beka

and two bracelets upon her hands, ten of gold was their weight.

(Genesis 24:22)

That word beka, apparently suggesting some weight, is a strange word occurring only once again in the Torah.

A beka for the head, a half shekel of the holy shekel…

(Exodus 38:26)

It is quite inexplicable, until we notice another Hebrew word that appears to defy translation—ekev.

All the nations of the world will be blessed through your seed,

ekev in that you listened to My voice.

(Genesis 22:18)

Ekev in that Abraham listened to my voice…

(Genesis 26:5)

And it shall be ekev you will listen to these statutes…

(Deuteronomy 7:12)

Nothing in an English translation would connect these words. But this is what the Hebrew word beka looks like:

בקע

And this is what the word ekev looks like:

ﬠקב

Notice that they are made up of the same three letters. The letters’ numerical values are 100, 70, and 2 for a total of 172. This number is well known in ancient Jewish wisdom. It is the number of words found in the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20: 2-14.

Beka and ekev both refer, on a deeper level, to the essence of God’s message to mankind—the Ten Commandments.

Eliezer gave Rebecca something ‘golden’ – which is to say exceedingly valuable – whose measure was a beka or 172, and then something whose value was ten but divided into two objects. Does this suggest anything to you?

That’s right. The Ten Commandments, etched upon Two Tablets. He didn’t give her literal jewelry. The timing was inappropriate and the details redundant. He gave her an insight into the man who could become her husband by sharing Isaac’s lens into reality-the Ten Commandments. Now we understand how Rebecca could agree to go with Eliezer to marry a man she’d never met. (Genesis 24:58) She actually knew his essence.

Suitors and employers can use a similar technique. If you’re wooing a lady, don’t grill her. You’ll make far better progress by revealing the central focus of your life and then allowing her to react. If you’re interviewing a prospective team member for your organization, don’t interrogate the applicant. Instead, paint a comprehensive picture of your organization and its culture. Tell about you, your mission, your passion and your values. Then invite comments and questions and carefully listen.

Just like the word ekev, there is hidden depth in the structure of the Ten Commandments. These few verses are revered for a reason. They encapsulate an entire vision of how humanity can live safe, prosperous and uplifting lives. Devote an hour listening to my audio CD, The Ten Commandments. Understanding them can enrich your life, as it did Rebecca’s. (Order today and take advantage of the sale price!)

I am looking forward to meeting many of you this weekend in Charlotte, NC. Please make sure and say hi.

Soul Food

January 24th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Sex is a physical desire not a physical need. By physical need, I mean things without which we die. Humans have only three physical needs—air, water, and food. We cannot ignore our need for each. We live only a few minutes without air, a few days without water and weeks without food.

Our need for air, water and food seems boring. Imagine a television show about breathing. “Tonight we bring you exclusive footage about sampling three different kinds of air; mountain, coastal, and desert.” No way! How about a cable channel devoted to drinking water? That’s ridiculous. And a network devoted to eating? What a silly idea!

But wait! There is more than one network devoted to food! Cooking shows abound with names like Paula Deen, Gordon Ramsay, Giada de Laurentiis, Nigella Lawson, and Emeril Lagasse who are part of the glamorous world of celebrity chefs and cooking shows.

There are few books or magazines about breathing air or drinking water. But plenty of books and magazines are printed about food and cooking. Food is fascinating. On some level, we find eating food to be much more significant than breathing air and drinking water. Our physical need for food is weaker than our need for air and water. Therefore we must be feeling a spiritual connection with food.

Question: Where in the Bible is the verse: “Behold I have given you air to breathe and water to drink”?

Answer: Nowhere.

The Five Books of Moses don’t encourage breathing air or drinking water. However, before we get fifty verses into the Torah’s 5,845 verses we encounter these two sentence:

And God said, ‘Behold I have given to you all herbs yielding seed…

every tree bearing fruit…these shall be yours for food.’

(Genesis 1:29)

And HaShem God commanded man saying,

‘From all the trees of the garden you shall surely eat.’

(Genesis 2:16)

Later, when Abraham encountered what he assumed were three pagans, instead of preaching to them about God and monotheism, he fed them. (Genesis 18:2-8)

When Isaac wished to bless his son, he first requested food to eat. (Genesis 27:4)

When Jacob bought the birthright from his brother, Esau, he paid with food. (Genesis 25:31-34)

Of the 613 divine commandments in the Torah, none pertain to breathing air or drinking water, but over 30 concern eating.

The main observances of Passover, the most celebrated Jewish festival in America, involve eating and mankind’s first sin was eating.

Evidently, eating food possesses significance way beyond physically keeping ourselves alive. Instead of pouring a can of vegetables down our throats, we prefer to sit at a linen covered table. Instead of grabbing at the food with our fingers, we prefer to use utensils. Instead of lowering our mouths to the plates we prefer to raise the food to our mouths. All these preferences point to our recognition of the spiritual dimension to food.

To eat healthily we must feed both our spiritual hunger and our physical hunger. Our bodies extract physical nourishment from food without our conscious involvement but we must learn to extract spiritual nourishment as well. When that is missing, we subconsciously keep eating more and more trying to fill the void.

Here are four strategies from ancient Jewish wisdom to help us wrap eating in holiness and extract maximum benefit from each morsel rather than going for quantity.

  • Utter an appropriate blessing before eating then recite: “You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalms 145:16)
  • Avoid eating alone. Intersperse every mouthful and every course with conversation.
  • Train yourself to eat far more slowly than you now do.
  • Say a grace after the meal.

And about those television food shows? Exercise while watching.

Do you find that you can use a spiritual boost this season? Is one Thought Tool a week just not enough? Are you not sure how to elevate the conversation at your table? For only $10 (for online orders) you can acquire Thought Tools 2008: Fifty Timeless Truths to Uplift and Inspire. Each one offers a strategy from ancient Jewish wisdom to enhance your friendships, finances and faith. What a great gift for yourself and for those you love.

The GOP’s Harriet Miers Moment

January 24th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

I heard it said that Mitt Romney missed the 1960’s. While the youth in America rioted and upended decades of tradition, he played by the rules of previous generations. The path he chose brought him a stable marriage and an exemplary family along with financial success. I can’t imagine that he regrets missing out on “drugs, sex and rock and roll.” But the 60’s changed the country and I think one of its slogans, “Question Authority,” is hitting Mr. Romney rather hard right now.  

Mitt Romney and the GOP establishment are having a Sixties moment. Perhaps the moment started way back in October 2005. In that month, President George W. Bush exercised his prerogative nominating White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Nothing in her resume suggested that she was constitutionally unfit to serve and in an earlier time respect might have been given to a sitting president. Despite murmurings, her confirmation would have proceeded. But Supreme Court nominations were no longer what they had been. A cataclysmic change had taken place with Judge Robert Bork’s 1987 nomination by President Reagan. While the destruction of Judge Bork was a disgusting spectacle, one result of that brouhaha was a diminution in the power of the president with regard to judicial appointments.  

While Judge Bork himself stated in October 2005 that he was sure the Miers’ nomination would proceed, he also called it, “a slap in the face of conservatives.” He was right on the second count and wrong on the first. The outcry caused Ms. Miers to withdraw her nomination and Samuel Alito was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Rank and file conservatives learned to trust their instincts and not assume that the “establishment” was smarter than they. More recently, the Tea Party solidified conservative “power to the people” and this Republican nominating cycle is as much pitting conservatives against the Republican establishment as it is Mitt Romney against his opponents.

The 1960’s didn’t just happen spontaneously. By ignoring undercurrents of unrest and by not heeding valid complaints, the “over thirties” generation missed the opportunity to direct positive changes and to prevent flawed ones.  The ascendancy of Newt Gingrich and the increasing popularity of Ron Paul in this election cycle are both symptoms of the GOP’s ignoring undercurrents of unrest and not heeding valid complaints. Paul represents a group which insists on government fundamentally changing the way it has been conducting business under both Republicans and Democrats. Sniping at him and at his followers misses the point. Gingrich reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s 1892 poem, Tommy. Tommy Atkins is a lower-class British soldier who gets no respect from society in his daily life. But when fighting is needed, all of a sudden he is sought after and valued. Here are two of the verses:

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mr. Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

…..

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints:
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;

Newt Gingrich is severely flawed in many areas. He certainly isn’t a plaster saint. His personal life has been such that I need to state that I am not impugning the morals of Kipling’s Tommy by making the comparison. His public life raises serious questions as well. In an ideal world his candidacy would be ludicrous. But he is a brawler who ably mud-wrestles with words; someone who stumbles, falls and gets back to the fight. I think the South Carolina results show that many conservatives would rather fight hard to defeat the president in November, risking a great win or a great loss, rather than staging a campaign in the Bob Dole, John McCain pattern. As he showed in Iowa, Mitt Romney has both the money and the organization to wage war to destroy Newt Gingrich. Those tactics will be useless against the sitting president. If Romney becomes the nominee by virtue of being the last man standing rather than because he is a leader who millions want to follow, there is little chance of beating Mr. Obama.

If the stakes weren’t so high this election cycle would be fascinating. At the moment, “none of the above” probably sums up the dominant feeling of the Republican electorate.  So far, the Republican Party is the biggest loser and if amazing and unprecedented things don’t happen, so are the American people.

 

No Tax Credits, Please

January 17th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 7 comments

Here are two pieces of information that might help you understand what I am about to write. A) I like Rick Santorum B) I appreciate large families

The combination of those two factors suggests that I should welcome Mr. Santorum’s campaign proposal to increase the per child tax credit.  Yet, my heart sank when I heard about it. I certainly have first-hand knowledge of how expensive it is to raise children.  Over the years, our orthodontist bills alone approached the budget of a small city. While our seven children were all home and the price of milk or eggs went up a few cents, my pocketbook felt it. You might say my opposition to the child tax credit proposal is a case of sour grapes since the benefit isn’t intended to be retroactive, but I don’t really think that is influencing my thoughts. I would be delighted for each of my children to have a large family (no pressure…well, maybe just a little), and empathize with how helpful some extra cash would be. As a grandmother, it might even free me up psychologically to leave Costco with clothing larger than toddler size. Still, while I am intrigued by Sen. Santorum’s candidacy, I think he is promoting a poor idea.

I have two basic concerns about this government giveaway plan. Firstly, I really, really, really want to see the tax system drastically simplified. I am tired of the thousands of codes and laws which favor some, reward “clever” accounting and legal footwork, and make most citizens cynical about the entire structure.  My personal idea is that everyone, including those who receive government assistance, should pay something and that anytime the tax code cannot be readily understood and complied with by the majority of the country’s citizens, it needs to be overhauled.  Granting that my idea may not be practical and certainly isn’t politically savvy, I do not want to hear about favoring some people over others. Period. Not government sector employees over those in the private sector; not those in some industries over others and not those who have children over those who don’t.

Even more than that, I don’t believe that government should be in the business of encouraging families to have more children. There is a huge problem, as both China and Europe have discovered, when a country’s aging population outnumbers its youthful one. But children are spiritual beings, not physical commodities which can be stockpiled. One of the ironies of the medals given by Stalin to mothers of large families (I would think long and hard before mimicking any policies of Stalinist Russia) was that some Jewish families, who were regularly harrassed because of their loyalty to their religion, were recipients of that medal. Of course, they had children not to help Mother Russia but in obedience to God’s command. Those children helped bring down the atheistic and communist Soviet Union. Getting into the procreation business – like other government favoritism forays – can open a can of unintended consequence worms.

Perhaps more importantly, while money may be tight in a family with children, getting a tax credit isn’t worth the price. I do not grant the government the royal mantle to reward or punish my decision to have or not have children. I want less government involvement in my family’s life, not more. Isn’t it funny that European countries who mandate parental leave unequaled in America, who provide much more government paid early education and day care, and who seem to make it so much easier to have children, have much lower birth-rates than America? Truthfully, the majority of parents who have large families, like Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and me, have them because we believe that God said to, not because any institution made it easy for us. I’d be happy for the government to take less of all hard-working people’s money and leave me the option whether to use it for raising children or in any other way.

There is a great deal I appreciate about Rick Santorum. His tax credit proposal doesn’t fit that category.  I would actually like to hear a debate between just him and Mitt Romney, with questions posed by a moderator who is not actively working against a Republicans win in November. It would give Mr. Romney a chance to win support as more than the default candidate and Mr. Santorum a chance to show that he has bold and broad ideas to invigorate the economy. But then, I have no secret weapon for manipulating reality and so I will only hope that as the primary season continues, the process doesn’t continue to demoralize as it unfortunately has been doing – to me at least – until now.

Kissing Golden Oldies Goodbye

January 17th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Neil Sedaka’s song “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” hit number one on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 in the summer of 1962. And as all who’ve loved and lost know, it is hard to do. But if you are in the wrong relationship, you must do it if you are ever to move on and unite with the right person.

My wife and I nursed many a young congregant through the heartbreak of a relationship ending. Indeed, we often encouraged and hastened the goodbye, assuring our tormented friend that only by enduring the tears of break up now, could joy arrive tomorrow.

Ford’s Model T debuted in 1908. By 1914, a quarter million were being built each year. This was terrible for people who had spent years in the horse wagon business. In fact, in the year 1900 about 110,000 people were employed building or repairing carriages and harnesses. Nearly 250,000 blacksmiths lived and worked in America that year fitting shoes on countless horses. And thousands more kept busy sweeping tons of horse manure off city streets.

Jobs for horse-driven transport workers quickly vanished. However, there were soon far more automobiles than there had ever been horses and carriages and along with the cascade of cars came not thousands, but millions, of new jobs. The end of the horse drawn era was tough on many and those who clung to the past deprived themselves of the blessings that were marching down the new highways.

Sometimes a divorce allows two people in a doomed marriage to rebuild new lives; the breakup of an empire allows many newly independent nations to thrive; the breaking up of an old building allows a new one to rise in its place or the breaking apart of an atom releases unimaginable amounts of energy and frees humans from drudgery. Every act of breaking, as painful as it always is, can launch something new that carries us further down the path of our own development as individuals, as a nation, and as the human family of God’s children.

I’d like to show you what the Hebrew verb for breaking looks like.

ש ב ר

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…

(Psalms 29:5)

But exactly the same word also means birth:

…for the children have arrived at the birth

(Isaiah 37:3)

And what is more, exactly the same word also means food.

And Jacob saw that there was food in Egypt…

(Genesis 42:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom expresses this equation:

Breakup = Birth = Sustenance

The Lord’s language is teaching us that when something breaks and ends, it also can give birth to something entirely new which can provide ongoing sustenance.

One problem is that often we allow a breaking of something in our lives to break our spirits. Instead, we must ensure that it becomes the birth of something new and positive. To learn how to transform breakage into birth we need to see two more uses of the same Hebrew word which help to make everything clear.

And when Gideon heard the recounting of the dream and its interpretation

(Judges 7:15)

I hoped for your salvation, Oh Lord…

(Psalms 119:166)

That’s right, when confronting the breakup of something we regarded as valuable we must analyze and interpret the past but then we must face only forward and anticipate salvation with confidence.

End that bad relationship; analyze what went wrong and why you stuck with it; walk away and don’t look back; face the future with optimism. Convert your stock of buggy whips into fan belts and join the car revolution.

Breakup ► Birth ► Sustenance

…if you react with analysis and optimism.

Susan and I yearn to teach you so much more ancient Jewish wisdom than space in these Thought Tools allows. Often, we reluctantly omit vital information along with further real-life applications. So we were thrilled when, over a year ago, TCT network invited us to host our own TV show. In response to an avalanche of fan mail, we have carefully selected four of our favorite half-hour shows to release on one DVD. We hope you’ll love and benefit from the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show as much as we do.

Deep Currents

January 10th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Can you tell the difference between these two lists of questions?

List A

  • What is the best way to treat tuberculosis?
  • What is the quickest way to get to New York from Los Angeles?
  • How high can a skyscraper be built?
  • What is the best way to obtain energy?

List B

  • What is the best way to cope with feelings of anger?
  • Can love be sustained or is it destined to fade?
  • How do we best find consolation in the face of death?
  • How do we raise children to respect their parents?
  • What would a meaningful work-life look like?

I am sure you got it. List A comprises questions for which the answers change.

It is easy to find the current answers to List A type questions. Study the latest scientific data. Each year as we acquire more knowledge and achieve greater technological prowess, those answers change.

In List B, however, the answers never fundamentally change. Regardless of new advances in science, technology, or medicine, the answers to those questions remain the same.

These kinds of questions gnaw away at people. Long ago, people turned to Scripture for the answers. About the time of the Renaissance, secularism started spreading its sordid stain and universities replaced the study of God’s teachings with literature. People studied Seneca the Roman philosopher partly to learn his views on anger management. They read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to gain insight into the complex dynamics of marriage and studied Shakespeare’s plays for understanding the entire range of human emotions.

As time went on, we turned to science for the answers as if the human soul was nothing more than $9.75 worth of common chemicals cunningly arranged into millions of neurological wiring systems. Thus the pages of popular magazines like Scientific American and Psychology Today offered the latest ‘scientific’ information on the role of sex in marriage and how human interactions work. Of course it helps that a tolerant readership overlooked the fact that one month’s advice frequently contradicted that from another issue of the same magazine eighteen months earlier.

Rather than ignoring the Bible in a search for answers to List B, we might be better off if, like many scientists of old, we turned to the Bible for List A as well.

Yesterday at lunch, historian David Barton of Wallbuilders mentioned to me that famed oceanographer, Lieut. Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873) of the U.S. Navy, cited this verse as the impetus for his brilliant discovery of ocean currents:

The birds of the heaven and the fish of the sea

all travel along the paths of the seas.

(Psalms 8:9)

Astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a pioneer in understanding the laws of planetary motion, credited his scientific research to a recognition that God made an orderly world and our job was to discover the rules of that order.

Rather than scoffing at Bible study while worshipping science, we should have the humility to recognize that the Bible may have much to teach us. Needless to say, especially when dealing with the very real List B questions which have to do with successfully living our lives, we should admit that the most modern developments have hardly produced spectacular success.

So what are we to do? The answer, to me, is clear, and I think you’ll agree that there is really nothing to lose in giving my answer a fair try.

My answer is that we must again turn back to the Bible for these answers. Just as Psalms 8:9 did not reveal the specific currents of the North Atlantic, but pointed Maury in the right direction, we do not find answers neatly laid out. Yet the Bible, especially understood with the aid of ancient Jewish wisdom, is utterly reliable as our compass. Try it with me for 2012. What is there to lose?

I am very excited to announce the debut of the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show DVD. For over a year, my wife and I have had tremendous fun appearing on the TCT network and we have picked four of our favorite shows to share with you. You may even find some of the answers to List B type questions while watching!

I Didn’t Mean to be a Witch

January 10th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

Most book titles mean something only if you are familiar with the contents of the book. There is nothing particularly descriptive about the words, Little Women or Tom Sawyer. The titles evoke a reaction only because the books are well known. More intriguing names like The Red Badge of Courage or The Scarlet Letter are also only meaningful after reading the book. Even a short plot synopsis doesn’t automatically let you know that this book will be one of those that becomes a classic and which you might find yourself reading over and over. Four sisters during the Civil War years go about their daily lives, maturing from girlhood to womanhood. Not terribly gripping, is it?

The above doesn’t apply to one of my favorite reads, I Didn’t Mean to be a Witch. This mother’s lament at not always measuring up to her image of what she should be, grabbed me at the title. The author, Linda Eyre, had previously written a best-selling book with her husband, Teach Your Children Values, which evolved into a series of books like Teach Your Children Joy, etc. That information was enough for me to know that this book wasn’t going to be sordid tale of drugs or promiscuity. Indeed, I Didn’t Mean to be a Witch echoed my internal cry when I didn’t live up to my own standards. I enjoyed the book, but the title stayed my favorite part through the years. Just looking at it on the shelf could make me laugh and buoy my spirits. The book still fills that purpose for one of my daughters who has “borrowed” it, finding it reassuring after a disappointing day.  

This is all to say that I truly appreciate a clever title. Especially after laboring over the chore of selecting titles for my husband and my books and audio CDs, I value the time, creativity and frequently the angst that accompanies naming a creation. So, rather than skipping over the name of a professor’s book, which was mentioned only as a means of establishing his credentials in a recent Good Housekeeping magazine, I took the extra second to read his book’s name. Unlike Linda Eyre’s book, where I paid for a copy just to have the title peeking out of my shelf with the contents being an added bonus, this book’s title convinced me not to even order it from the library. Having not read it, perhaps I am misjudging it, but if that is the case then the author and publisher made a really big marketing mistake.

What would you think is the message of a book called, You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10 to 25? To me it says that a fair number of my children, who are functioning perfectly well as adults, should still be treated as—and think of themselves— as adolescents. Why I would want to confer immaturity on them and added responsibility on me is beyond my comprehension.  In a tepid approximation of research (I have a rather limited time each week to devote to this blog), I did look the book up on the Amazon website . Guess what I found? This is a new and revised edition. The 1997 edition was titled, You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10 to 20. I don’t know how to write sounds of me shrieking in the background, but if I could, I would. Perhaps the comic book rendition, “AAARGH!” says it best.

In a world where I feel increasingly out of step with what are considered mainstream ideas I want to take this opportunity to thank you for making  me feel less alone. To those of you who, like me, think that adolescence as a concept should be severely limited; who believe that “old-fashioned” values never go out of fashion and who struggle to be not only better parents but also better spouses and citizens in a society which increasingly makes all of those undertakings difficult, here’s to making our voices heard in 2012.

P.S. I am alternately excited and hesitant about the debut of a new DVD in which I co-host four episodes of the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show with my husband. You can read about it here.  I’d love to hear your feedback.

Life Isn’t Fair

January 4th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

A short while ago, National Public Radio ran a piece entitled, “Many Women Underestimate Fertility Clock’s Clang.” It related the results of a recent study showing that most women are ignorant of the young age at which one’s chances of easily conceiving begin rapidly falling. Women who heed the prevalent cry to concentrate on their careers or focus on fun in their twenties are often shocked and saddened when they find that they may have missed a fertility window.

I give credit to NPR (which is different than saying that I think NPR should be taxpayer funded, but that’s another matter) for covering this story. As they report, there was a “vicious backlash” by women’s rights groups to an ad campaign ten years ago which was designed to make women aware of their bodies’ timetable. It seems that some groups feel that vast efforts should be made to educate women about how much they can achieve professionally while keeping them ignorant of the possible price of that achievement.

All choices have consequence; “having it all” just isn’t always possible.  While feminism led to some positive and necessary changes, many of us would argue that it resulted in quite a number of negative ones as well.   The twin sirens of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ lead many into troubled waters brimming with unhappiness.

There was a period when one of our daughters would ask for a bowl of “Life Isn’t Fair” cereal. Not yet able to read the cereal box she heard her older siblings referring to it as “Life” and she recognized the opening word of a phrase my husband and I repeatedly used.

In a house full of young children, there was a lot that didn’t seem fair. Perhaps one child received an invitation to a birthday party while the others didn’t; perhaps the child at the birthday party missed a fun family outing. If one child outgrew her shoes more rapidly than a sibling, we felt no compunction about getting a new pair for only the growing child. While there was much that was equally shared – like chicken pox and hopefully, at the end of the day, love – there were seven children with individual talents, personalities and situations. This meant that each one sometimes got a little more and at other times a little less. The cry of “it’s not fair” might have precipitated some sympathy, but also the reply, “Life isn’t fair.” My husband and I thought that was an important life lesson to absorb; not as a call to be passive but in recognition that learning that certain realities are built into this world helps one live more successfully.

Yet the idea that life must be fair persists.  The NPR article quoted a woman who struggled to conceive for many years as saying, “The ticking biological clock is not a burden women should bear alone.”   In her view, men should be equally concerned. After all, that would be only fair.   After years of celebrating the separation of sex and reproduction and demanding that a woman’s body is entirely her own business, it seems a bit weak to yell, “It’s not fair,” when reality intrudes.

The impending Health Care legislation raises lots of questions of fairness. A great deal is unknown about the Health Care bill that passed in 2010, including whether it is constitutional and if the upcoming presidential election will completely change the rules. But meanwhile, there are a lot of ambiguities about how it will actually work. Nancy Pelosi’s infamous words that Congress needed to pass the bill so that we could find out what was in it were hardly reassuring. One could conclude that the bill is a Pandora’s Box.

Let’s posit a number of thirty-five year old women, who made different life choices. I may be drawing these virtual women in broad strokes, but I do think that the situations described aren’t out of bounds.

Amanda loved to travel and while she always pictured a husband and children in her life, she thought that both she and her future family would be happier if she satiated her wanderlust before settling down. Never motivated by money she combined volunteer work abroad with occasional short-term jobs that financed further travel. Confident that Mr. Right would be around once she was ready; she has been disappointed in the quality of men she has met since returning home. Deciding that she can raise a child on her own she is discovering that not only will child care be outrageously expensive, but even getting pregnant may come with a hefty price tag.

Casey got married during college, despite the protestations of her friends who thought she was much too young. She and her husband both wanted a large family and they now have six children ranging from thirteen down to two years old. Finances are always tight, particularly since the couple manages on one salary so that Casey can homeschool the children.

Brianna always knew that she wanted to be a doctor and met her husband in medical school. Having established their careers after years of study (and a great deal of student debt), they agree that it is time to begin their family. As older first-time parents, they are realistic about possibly needing invasive medical procedures to get pregnant and know that both the pregnancy and their children face a statistically higher chance of medical complications.

Marcy never went to college. She had her first baby at seventeen and her second by a different father, at nineteen. She was married for a short time during her twenties and had two more children. She thinks it’s ridiculous that minimum wage is so low and believes that companies should be required to provide day care. How else will she and her children have a chance to move forward in life?

Amanda, Brianna, Casey and Marcy had different opportunities and made different choices. But they are where they are. Do Casey and her husband need to pay higher taxes so that Amanda and Brianna can receive fertility treatments? Is it selfish for Casey and her husband to want lower tax rates so they can save money and travel once their children are older? Should Amanda not have been allowed to travel or choose her own employment since it delayed her becoming a taxpayer?  Is it unfair that Brianna and her husband have an income which will allow them access to all sorts of specialists which their prospective children might need, and is Marcy entitled to the same level of psychological and medical help for hers?

Life isn’t fair. Government’s utopian and futile attempts to make it so tend to backfire. In the real world, human beings cannot be equal precisely because they are human beings with differing needs, desires and choices. Equality before the law is American; equality of outcome as a policy is the opposite of the freedom to choose life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What! Another Resolution?

January 3rd, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Want to lose weight? Me too. And so did 84 female housekeepers in seven different hotels who typically clean fifteen rooms a day. They were measured for physiological health variables affected by exercise and then two Harvard University psychologists informed half the women (untruthfully) that their daily work alone constituted enough exercise to make them lose weight and keep healthy.

In 2007, Psychological Science reported that those in the informed group lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, and had significantly healthier body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio while the others had no changes.

What you believe can make your body do amazing things.

Making resolutions is easier than keeping them but how do we increase the likelihood of keeping them all year and really achieving meaningful results? There is much useful advice to be found, but here is one spiritual key to keeping your New Year resolutions.

Generally, when are you most likely to keep your word? Often, the answer depends on how much you value the person to whom you make the promise.

For example, if you assure your college roommate that you’ll stop leaving your clothing lying around the dorm you might occasionally forget to keep your word. Your roommate is, after all, just your roommate. However, if you assure your boss, who has put your job on the line, that you’ll make ten sales calls each day, you might just keep your word.

A resolution is making a promise to yourself. If in January you promise yourself, say, to stop smoking, keeping your resolution will depend upon how important and worthy you think you are.

It is also helpful to recognize that abandoning a resolution is a sin. Just as not keeping your word to others is a sin, so is not keeping your word to yourself.

Now examine these five verses. The word inside the [parentheses] is the Hebrew.

1) …when [ki] a person will sin…

(Leviticus 4:1)

2) If [im] the anointed kohen [priest] will sin…

(Leviticus 4:3)

3) If [im] the entire congregation of Israel will err…

(Leviticus 4:13)

4) When [asher] a ruler sins…

(Leviticus 4:22)

5) If [im] one individual from among the people of the land will sin…

(Leviticus 4:27)

Significantly, in one chapter describing the same action, three different Hebrew words are used for ‘when’ or ‘if’. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the three Hebrew words used above imply different levels of probability.

  • asher means it will almost definitely happen.
  • ki means it will probably happen.
  • im means it might but probably not.

Verse 1) acknowledges that an ordinary person by himself will probably sin.

Verse 2) declares that a special priest probably won’t.

Verse 3) tells that everyone in a group will probably not all commit the same sin at the same time.Verse 4) reminds us that a ruler has many temptations and will surely sin.

Verse 5) gives us an amazing insight. It seems to be speaking about an individual, just like the first verse we saw. But a different word is used, implying that this time the individual has a smaller chance of sinning. By seeing himself as a worthy part of a group that includes remarkable people like anointed priests and rulers, he is more likely to weigh his actions carefully.

God wants us to feel morally worthy and even holy. One result of doing so is that we take our commitments more seriously.

We can elevate our sense of self-worth by recognizing our role as a child of God. Couple personal resolutions with others resolutions like a commitment to pray regularly, give more charity or study more Scripture. Those activities remind you that you are a morally worthy and significant human being; we all tend to keep our words to such people.

What we believe can make our bodies do amazing things.

As we start 2012, let’s strive to recognize everyone’s value, including our own, as children of God. Each of the five audio CDs in the Biblical Blueprint Set, which remains on sale through Sunday, provides insights on how to more successfully relate to others—and to ourselves.