Monthly Archives: August, 2015

Phoneless in Seattle

August 27th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

Actually, I became phone-less in Anacortes, WA. We were at the fuel dock, refilling the boat’s tank with diesel as the last step of our amazing family boating holiday. I saw the fuel dock attendant tie down our stern line and move into position to grab our bow line. Although a gusty wind was blowing us off the dock, I was confident that my husband in the pilot house and the attendant on the dock could handle things. My focus was on packing up the galley.

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Until, that is, I noticed that the stern line was slipping. I raced for the stern and jumped onto the dock, bending down to the cleat to tie the stern line more securely. At that point, as I crouched down and leaned over, I watched my phone somersault out of my shirt pocket and gently rock in the water before gracefully sinking out of sight. 

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I almost never carry my phone with me. One of my husband’s pet peeves is that I frequently don’t know where my phone is. My usual outfits of skirts and tops don’t come with pockets and when I move from room to room my phone is often left behind. This day, however, I had donned a boat shirt when the cool breeze kicked up and popped my phone into the pocket. It was a fateful decision. 

We had an amazing few weeks together in the coastal waters of British Columbia. The enchanting combination of emerald islands and azure water, vistas of trees, bright skies and beckoning mountains always sings to our souls. A few of our children joined us and we even had the opportunity to introduce our oldest grandson to the nautical life. The weather was magnificent, the people friendly and welcoming and the challenge of winds, currents and tides presented a welcome break from life’s usual  daily concerns. 

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Aside from the expected boat problems (How can our water tank be dry when it was half full last night? Why are the batteries not holding a charge?) the trip was life-restoring but uneventful. Now, after hundreds of miles of navigation, only a hundred feet from our home dock, Poseidon claimed my phone.

My husband immediately reassured me that we would replace it and I quickly made an internal calculation that we and our family were healthy and losing a cell phone doesn’t come close to ranking on the catastrophe meter. But… I still felt not only a pang of sadness at the financial and time waste but I also felt incomplete. I have never smoked, but I imagine that someone used to a cigarette in his hands might feel the same strangeness once it was no longer there. While I easily put aside my phone every Shabbat, I missed its presence all of that Monday. When I went to get our rental car and couldn’t phone to tell my husband that I was back…when my husband ran into a store and I couldn’t play Words with Friends while I waited…when I could hear the family What’s App exploding on my husband’s phone with messages that I couldn’t read–I felt incomplete.  

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Picking up a new phone the next day, I realized that the young sales associate never knew days of being disconnected. When I was a child, I assumed that  once I rode off on my bicycle with friends our parents had no way of reaching us. When my mother went to the store, if I forgot to tell her that I had finished the peanut butter, it would have to wait for the next trip. As a newlywed, I never expected a message telling me that my husband was five minutes away; when he walked in the door was when I knew where he was. Yet, in a few short years, I have become so accustomed to being constantly in touch that I was unsettled at losing that contact. Sitting with empty hands looking around a parking lot or having to remember what exit I needed rather than being guided by a disembodied voice directing me was downright weird. 

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I don’t have any profound statement with which to end this Musing. Life changes and I’ve become as used to having a phone appendage as my grandparents became accustomed to having indoor plumbing. Each wondrous new advance rapidly becomes a required standard. Still, while I’m not happy about losing my cell phone, it did remind me that the line between a helpful device and a crutch is remarkably fine.

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Our daughter won’t listen to Dave Ramsey

August 27th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

We are Jewish. I’ve heard you endorse Dave Ramsey and vice versa. His methods have helped me greatly. However, my 34 year old daughter is at a financial crossroads and desperately needs help. When I suggested that she take a FPU course or at least listen to him or read his book, she says, “Oh, he’s that Christian guy. No, I’m not doing that.” How can I get her to open up to his message?

I listen and the Christian references don’t bother me. How can I get her to open up and help herself? She is a struggling actress in CA, in the middle of a divorce.

Thanks in advance for your answer.

∼ CKP

Answer:

Dear CKP,

Firstly, please accept our compliments and admiration for being open to Dave Ramsey’s tough but true teachings on finance.  He has helped thousands of people and we are glad you’re among them.  We are sorry about the pain you feel at your daughter’s self-destructive ways and your apparent inability to help her see the road map.  However, we do think we can help you. Without knowing your daughter, we can only make a few guesses as to what her problem with Dave Ramsey really is. Here are our top three choices:

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Never Marry That Boy

August 26th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Why do so many women make such bad mistakes about men? Some date purposelessly, often wasting far too much time on a man who will never marry them.  They devote themselves endlessly to men who as boyfriends make them miserable, and who as husbands would make them even unhappier.  Ever confident of their ability to transform commitment-phobic-rogues into devoted husbands, they lavish endless love on callous losers.

While men make more than their fair share of mistakes, this lamentable catalog lists the main mistakes women make.  Why? (more…)

Revisionist Heroism

August 20th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 8 comments

Revisionist history makes us feel good. This is true on a national level as Vladimir Putin is doing with Russian history books by scrubbing Stalin’s flaws along with crimes of the USSR. It happens in America when liberals pat themselves on the back, painting conservative leaders as bumbling or evil in school textbooks—or ignoring them altogether—while extolling their own heroes. It is also true in our personal relationship to historical events. 

When we read of the Underground Railroad in the mid 1800’s in the United States or of those who sheltered Jews in the Nazi era, we picture those people as our soulmates. Surely, we would have taken a stand were we living at that time! 

We cannot, of course, know the truth, but armchair history has the advantage of letting ourselves be heroes while taking no risks. Some of those who assisted runaway slaves had their houses burnt down; some of those who assisted Jews themselves ended up in concentration camps. Heroism, by definition, comes with an unspecified price tag. The amount only gets filled in after the deed. 

There is such a thing as time and money heroism as well. Those of us not cut out to put our lives on the line or not in a position to do so, sometimes put our livelihoods at risk. In the world of gay rights bullying, shop owners and county clerks are finding themselves in that situation today. Other times, individuals place their own lives second to a cause, fighting with their energy, time and finances. 

On a lesser level, but still vitally important, each of us has relatively low-cost opportunities to support the heroism of others. I may not be able to stop President Obama’s disastrous plans, but have I at least called my congressional representatives to tell them how I feel about the proposed Iran deal? I may not enlist to fight ISIS but have I supported those who are helping persecuted Yazidi and Christian girls in northern Iraq and Syria? (here’s a second example) Have I sent a contribution or written a note of support to those who are paying the price of convictions that I share or to legal groups who assist them? Do I even bother voting? 

In my own life, the answer to some of my above questions is yes and to others it is no. Like you, my life is busy, sometimes overwhelmingly so. The list of worthwhile causes and activities is endless. Attempting to do too much usually means doing nothing. Nevertheless, by picturing myself as a future armchair historian and asking myself twenty years down the road, “What did you do to stop evil in 2015,” I hope to push myself to do just a little bit more. 

Should I lie on my resume to get a job?

August 20th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

Is it a sin to write about false experience on my resume? If I get an interview for a job then lie about the experience that I had because they always want experience and I know I can do the work if only they gave me a chance, would talking about the job experience I didn’t have be a sin because of the lie?

∼ Mimi

Answer:

Dear Mimi,

We suspect that you didn’t really write us expecting us to encourage lying. Aside from the moral implications, should you actually lie convincingly enough to get a job, you would have a constant sword dangling over your head.

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The Law of Leadership

August 18th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Pete was promoted to a new position of authority over the department of which he was previously a part.  He was concerned that his former team members would fail to recognize his new role.  He asked me if there were any lessons in ancient Jewish wisdom about gaining and retaining the respect of others.  I explained that the key was self-restraint and that he could no longer join in the company’s “Fun-Friday” high jinks as he used to.  He would need to be extra diligent in exhibiting self-respect.

Wise parents instinctively do this all the time.  They know that they have to behave with dignity and self-respect in order to develop in their children a natural respect for them.  This is the Scriptural passage I teach in order to illustrate this point.

The book of Exodus opens with one of the most perplexing puzzles in Scripture.  How could King Pharaoh forget all that Joseph had done for Egypt and turn against Joseph’s family, the Israelites?

Genesis 41 describes how God helped Joseph achieve prominence.  Joseph’s foresight not only saved Egypt from a seven year drought and famine but also transformed Egypt into the regional power of the time.  People came from everywhere to shop for food in Egypt.

When the patriarch Jacob died, so revered was he that the Egyptians mourned him for seventy days. (Genesis 50:3)  When Joseph died, he was such a symbol of national prestige that the Egyptians would not allow him to be buried back in the Land of Israel where his father lay.  Instead he was buried in Egypt.  (Genesis 50:26)

One would have expected the powerful feelings of gratitude and warmth towards the descendants of Jacob and Joseph to have lingered for a while. Yet, quite astonishingly, by the eleventh verse of the new book of Exodus, we discover that the Jews are already being discriminated against, taxed, and oppressed.

What brought about this unprecedented hostility towards the Jewish citizens of Egypt?  Ancient Jewish wisdom identifies a clue in this language:

The Children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very, very strong and the land was filled with them.
(Exodus 1:7)

If some of the phrases seem a bit redundant, that is because in Hebrew, the Lord’s language, each conveys additional information, teaching that added responsibility accompanies added success.

Fruitful = God gave the Israelites the blessing of large families.

Swarmed = Unfortunately, these large families weren’t meticulous in their behavior, instead behaving obnoxiously like rodents for whom the term ‘swarm’ is usually employed.

Increased = As a result of their talents and abilities, they achieved prominence and influence.

Very, very strong =  Unfortunately, they began throwing their weight around rather than remembering that they were guests in the land.

Filled with them = As a result of the above conduct, despite being a minority, they nonetheless seemed to be everywhere and in control of everything.

Joseph saved Egypt and was highly venerated.  Then all of a sudden a new king persuaded an entire grateful nation to oppress the Jews?  Yes, indeed, provided that the Israelites abandoned the principles, the ethic and the idealism of the once respected Joseph.

Had the Jews remained true to the values that Jacob and Joseph instilled into them, Pharaoh would not have feared them.  Had their values not eroded, his attempts to persuade his people would have been futile.  The Egyptians no longer identified the Jews they knew with the Jacob and Joseph of their legends.  Their respect for Israel vanished.

A key to earning, gaining, and retaining respect of others is to exhibit control of our impulses in how we eat, speak, work and play.  It is one of the most important lessons of leadership whether at work or in the family and one that needs constant attention.

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Planned Parenthood: See No Evil

August 13th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 8 comments

I have not watched the Planned Parenthood videos for the same reason that I do not watch videos of ISIS beheading its victims. It is the same reason that I limit viewing documentaries about the Holocaust.  There are certain images that I do not want seared into my brain. However, not watching the videos doesn’t mean not acknowledging the very real presence of evil. 

Abortion occupies an unusual place in American life. The image that persuaded many good people to support abortion a number of decades ago was that of a young, innocent girl raped (possibly by her father) and dying after an illegal, unhygienic, back-alley abortion. The picture expanded to include happily married women who were on the verge of physical collapse as a result of too many pregnancies, girls-next-door whose lives were about to be ruined by one night’s mistake and other images of female victims. The women were visible and portrayed sympathetically; the fetuses were unseen and dismissed as no more human than discarded fingernails. 

Scientific advances destroyed the invisibility of the baby while abortion undeniably became an act of frequent irresponsibility and apathy rather than a rare solution for extreme situations. The American public’s views on this issue have moved more conservative, with younger people supporting more restrictions on abortion than the now aging Sixties activists for whom this issue above all others dictates how they vote.  

Why is it so difficult for those who uphold the abortion banner to say, “We need to reconsider,” at least acknowledging that a second look is needed? For some, abortion rights has become their religion. For others, it is a callous political calculation that keeps Democrats in office. Liberals in general prefer to focus on intentions rather than results. Admitting that ideas that sound kind and compassionate can end up causing unintended cruel consequences puts a brake on quickly implementing the next kind and compassionate sounding notion. 

However, for some, I think another factor comes into play, even subconsciously.  Women, in particular, replay scenes in our heads. I can still visualize a time when I tiredly snapped at a four-year-old and watched her innocent face crumble. Many women remember in detail wrong decisions and bad judgments. Imagine having to admit that you demonstrated, articulated and voted for a policy that caused pain and suffering to the most innocent of beings? If abortion has been the backbone of your political leanings for decades and it turns out that in doing so you supported the dismembering and sale of newborn babies’ body parts, what sort of nightmares will you suffer? What if there is an abortion in your past that will give you nightmares if examined too closely? 

When slave-trader John Newton’s newly awakened religious sentiments led him to see Africans as human beings rather than cargo, he did not simply start transporting spices rather than people. He changed his entire life, composing the stirring hymn, Amazing Grace. When Whittaker Chambers recognized the evil of the communist master he served, he changed his entire life, helping to destroy the communist infiltration of the American government. When self-examination caused a gynecologist I know to recognize that the abortions he was performing were a form of sex-selection by wealthy, accomplished professional women, he not only stopped doing abortions, but embraced a serious Jewish life. 

Saying, “I thought support for abortion was an expression of my kind nature, but I didn’t have all the facts,” doesn’t allow one to say, “oh, well,” and continue life as usual. Changing one’s view of Planned Parenthood to seeing it as more Lizzie Borden than Clara Barton demands a sea change in thinking. For gentle souls, it means an entire re-evaluation and harsh introspection. Few of us are able to bear that type of pain and the change it necessitates. It is easier to accept President Obama’s claims that the videos are examples of right-wing extremist editing than to watch them and face the truth. Yet, after six decades, the truth is relentlessy emerging. 

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Should we speak out?

August 13th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

A friend and her unmarried daughter just named the new born baby ‘Delilah’. We believe that names are important and this namesake is a strange pick. My wife asked me whether she should say anything to this Bible-believing Grandma. Do you have an opinion about this?

∼ Mark

Answer:

Dear Mark,

We certainly do have an opinion and it is one that we often voice to ourselves: When someone does not ask your opinion, you should not give it. While, obviously, there are exceptions to this rule they are fewer and farther between than most of us imagine.

This Bible-believing Grandma must be having a difficult time dealing with her daughter’s out-of-wedlock birth. It sounds from your letter that she will be a full time support network for this new, little one. Her hands will be full and she will need her friends’ embrace over the years to come.

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