Posts in Susan’s Musings

Thinking of You

March 27th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

This has been a very strange week, certainly for many of you as well as for me. Somehow, a new normal is evolving. It includes not seeing children, grandchildren and friends in person but meeting them online. It means not going to the supermarket, and exercising via my computer rather than in the class that usually starts my day. It consists of a world that is at one and the same time slower yet more overwhelming. I am physically doing less, but my mind is running in a hundred different paths.

We, probably like you, know of people who are ill, in hospital and sadly, some who have lost their lives. We are living in times that the history books will describe. They will use the word plague, which previously for many of us privileged individuals was associated with the Exodus from Egypt or distant-sounding words like Bubonic or cholera. The financial stress is real and that will have long-reaching physical, psychological, emotional and political implications.

I recognize how fortunate we are to have technology that allows us to go beyond physical isolation. The library building is closed, but I can download books from there as well as other services. I am finding new choices as well as comfort-reading old favorites. Along with re-reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazon series (I just finished Pigeon Post), this week, I read Lori Gottlieb’s new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. It provided a fascinating look into the world of therapy. I am being incredibly moved by Abby Johnson’s book, Unplanned, and hope I have a chance to discuss it with you.

How are you doing? What is your new normal? What are you reading and how are you coping? We are thinking of and praying for you as we know that you are for us.

Our hope is that our new journal can help you both today and when “normal” life resumes.
Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges
from Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Are We In This Together?

March 20th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

“We’re all in this together,” is a rather contradictory phrase to use at a time when we are being exhorted to stay apart from each other. Nonetheless, the more widespread that sentiment, the more successfully we will weather this crisis.

I suspect that many of you, like me, vacillate between thinking that we, at community, state and country level, are dealing with this virus too leniently or alternatively in too draconian a fashion. I do not envy those making decisions. Nonetheless, I am concerned at social and governmental factors that belie the idea of one people pulling together in a tough time.

There have always been greedy, power-hungry and selfish people. Communities that could be loving and warm to those who fit in could also be indifferent or hostile to those who didn’t. However, I don’t think I am guilty of over-romanticizing the past in claiming that when doctors, storekeepers, teachers and mayors met the individuals they served in church, at Rotary and on the street, they actually saw them as individual human beings. When times were tough, those who had much helped those who had little. Those who had little helped those who had even less.

It concerns me that a chasm seems to exist between a large number of people whose paychecks come from money taken from taxpayers by the government and those who work in the private sector. I have sympathy for my local librarian as I do for my local shoe store owner. The private school teacher whose school shut down needs to feed her family just as much as the public school teacher who is also sitting at home. The business owner who is watching his sales plummet needs to pay his mortgage just as his state Senator does.

In other words, I have a sneaking suspicion that we are NOT all in this together. Some government workers are being paid while staying home. Others, like mail carriers and police and firemen are working under more difficult circumstances. Many of us in the private sector are reluctantly home while some industries will get a boost from this event. Doctors and nurses are seeing the exacerbation of problems they have known about for years yet been silenced from mentioning because they are politically incorrect.  If those making policies and decisions that affect all of us felt the nail-chewing, lie-in-bed-worrying anxiety of their constituents, their edicts and suggestions would be more helpful.

I don’t have the answers. I do worry that describing certain industries as too vital to fail or treating government workers differently than those in the private sector or trying to put band-aids on some areas but not others, or looking to cast blame on the wrong places, will slow our recovery. If this virus and its accompanying economic plight can turn us away from the “me” and “special-interest” and identity politics Balkanization virus that has overtaken our society, we can be healthier after it passes (as it assuredly will) than we were before.

Use this time to strengthen your faith and family and to prepare for financial opportunity.
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Panic Isn’t Personal

March 12th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

Like most of you, I do not know how to assess the actual health threat of the Coronavirus while recognizing that much of the panic, economic and social damage is media and politically driven. Panic hit my town today, with markets overflowing as customers stocked up in preparation either for being quarantined or for shortages. At the same time, friends and families co-ordinated, recognizing that we can share resources. Sharing a laugh—even a nervous one— and scheduling virtual activities for children sent home from closing schools makes it easier to deal with the unexpected.

Yet, today, many individuals around the world have few friends. A singular focus on career leaves little time for establishing families, building community on the local level, or for keeping up with relatives and childhood buddies. A few years back I wrote the following and it is as true or truer today.

What do high tax rates, entitlement programs and a dinner in honor of our nine-year-old grandson have to do with each other? It turns out, quite a lot.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. A siyum marks the conclusion of studying a specific portion of God’s word. (For a deeper understanding of a siyum see chapter 50 in Thought Tools Volume 1.) In this case, our grandson, Yosef, completed his very first section of the Mishnah—a compilation of ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning Mishnah marks a growth in maturity of thought and is a portal to deeper understanding. To mark the event, Yosef’s parents invited his teacher to a celebratory dinner.

What made this event particularly special is that we have known Yosef’s teacher since he was born. We met his parents when, as singles, they began attending my husband’s Torah classes. We rejoiced at their wedding; our families have shared many joyous and some sad times together as the teacher/student relationship evolved into one of close friendship. When our children were looking for a Torah teacher for Yosef, our friends’ oldest child was a natural choice.

When society functions successfully, this is how life works. People get to know, care for and trust each other. They interact in small family units, extended units of family and friends, and larger units like synagogue, church or business networks. When times are good they share Fourth of July barbecues, pick up groceries for each other and exchange recipes and books.  In a time of need, such as illness, losing a job or a natural disaster like a hurricane, they support each other, providing not only physical assistance but also loving comfort.

Inevitably, as government grows bigger, family and friendship ties shrink. The more government expands, the more the private sector must shrink.  The more an impersonal government provides, the less people rely on each other. The less people rely on each other, the more they generally need government support.  As taxes increase to provide more necessities and entitlements it forces more people to work longer hours, leaving them less time for strengthening ties to family and friends. When government is the first resource rather than the last one, forming relationships becomes optional and temporary. “What can you do for me” associations replace the traditional connections that are a vital, necessary part of successful living.

In the final analysis, the government cannot supply love, affection, compassion or charity. It can transfer or redistribute money and services, but not heart. It can label you as needy but not recognize and encourage the sparks of your soul that turn you into a giver rather than a taker.  It can fool you into thinking that you are self-sufficient while stopping you from forming networks of community and recognizing that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is increasingly devolving so that people relate more to the government than to each other.  The sad results are poorer and more bitter lives. 

Yosef’s teacher and his wife brought their newborn daughter to the siyum. Since my husband’s late parents were also part of the web of connection with our students and friends, four generations were spiritually present at the celebration. That kind of safety net cannot be equaled no matter how many billions of dollars a government spends.

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What’s Your College Admission Scandal?

March 5th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 19 comments

We have been having stimulating and entertaining conversations in our America’s Real War Master Class. One topic we discussed had to do with the terrible job our generation, in general, has done in passing on the values of gratitude, hard work, faith and patriotism to the next generation. Not only has this left younger people vulnerable to warped ideologies but it has also resulted in many of them feeling depressed, anxious and lonely.

There are many reasons, but I’ve been thinking about one potential culprit in particular. Whether articulated or not, many parents have turned their children’s education into a false god. Many of us may have expressed disdain at the recently exposed college admissions scandal. In the desire to see their children attend “top” universities and/or the school of their choice, parents became embroiled in lying, bribing and other underhanded activities. Yet, since few of us have the monetary resources that would make us susceptible to that scheme, honesty demands that we ask if we have done even slightly similar things on a smaller level.

It is no secret that many parents arrange to get their children labeled with a ‘disability’ so that the kids will be given accommodations. These may range from being prescribed stimulating drugs to being given extra time during a test. If that is something that never crossed your mind, how about excusing a child from a family occasion so that he or she can study? While missing some events may be appropriate, is it possible that we sometimes enlarge the window to include times when our teens would be better off hearing that they need to be there no matter what? Maybe getting a lower grade or burning the midnight oil or missing out on partying with friends would help them recognize that sharing in family joys and sorrows is part of being a good and connected person? Maybe juggling a job alongside school would teach teens lessons as, or more, important than the facts they are learning in class?

As well-intentioned and loving parents, we can easily give a damaging message to our children when we venerate school above almost all else.  After all, we don’t tell ourselves that we should only focus on one thing. We expect ourselves to balance conflicting needs including career, spouse, children, extended family, community and associated responsibilities and we call that having a well-rounded life. Why would we deprive our young adults the same opportunity? Telling a teen that this time of life is meant only for studying, participating in activities that pad college or graduate school applications and, incidentally, having a good time, promotes egocentrism, entitlement, immaturity and vanity. Not incidentally, those four paths usually lead to miserable lives. Let’s not wish that on the young people we love.

What’s at the core of socialism?
Go back to the source.
Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel



Keep the Good, Leave Out God

February 27th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

While driving to my exercise class the other day, I was listening to a religiously agnostic podcast host grapple with the challenge of filling the void left behind when taking God and faith out of life’s equation. Recognizing the benefits of community and support that often stem from religious affiliation and acknowledging the increase in isolation, pessimism and depression among today’s youth, he wondered how to achieve all the advantages that  faith brings while leaving God and His direction out of the picture. His words reminded me of historian Will Durant’s quandary at realizing that the “advances” he enthusiastically promoted as an atheist might be leading people and society in the wrong direction.

I could facetiously suggest that I too would like results without signing on to programs. Weight loss and toning without needing to exercise or diet come to mind. Or perhaps intellectual achievement without having to work my way through difficult literature or math classes. Certainly, many people would opt for close and loving relationships with their children, yet are overwhelmed by the hours generally needed to develop that.

Yet, it makes sense to most people that eating cake rather than kale and choosing couch-surfing over cardio isn’t going to work. It seems less inevitable to most that lasting marriage, community and prosperity have trouble existing outside of a faith-based structure. In addition, even those who don’t exercise or eat healthily tend not to have a deep aversion to the idea of doing so. In contrast, many who were raised within a faith and left their roots ooze bitterness and animosity. Unlike Mr. Durant, whose Catholic upbringing was in a warm and nurturing environment and whose atheism stemmed from intellectual questioning, others (including my podcast host) are “chased away” by family dysfunction, leadership hypocrisy or twisted authority. It isn’t hard to see how, in their eyes, religion is something to be avoided and eroded.

These wounded souls raise a valid point. After all, one of the reasons I am so frustrated by the rise of positive feelings towards socialism among the young is that it betrays tremendous arrogant ignorance. When faced with the failures of socialism (unfortunately, they often don’t even know about those), they reply, “Well, it just hasn’t been done right.” Am I sounding the same note when I sympathize with those betrayed by parents or authorities in church or synagogue but insist that they do not represent faith properly?

Here is why I think not. There are not dozens of countries that have tried socialism with the majority of them forming thriving societies and one of two failures. There is no long-lasting successful socialist society. Even the much-touted Scandinavian countries that lurched left rejected that course and moved back towards capitalism when the results were not as promised. However, there have, over centuries, been untold numbers of high-achieving, healthy homes and communities based on Judeo-Christian faith. Have there been disastrous ones along the way? Yes. But, the core of the faith communities carried on and prospered. The United States itself was established by the descendants of those who left England because they rejected what they saw as an impure version of the church, hence their name, Puritans.

There are many ideas that unite people, religion being one. The venom felt today by Leftists for those who reject their doctrine is as strong as that of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition against those whom she saw as heretics. I worry that humans cannot survive long-term without belief. Professing atheism will work fine for some individuals and suppressing the traditional Judeo-Christian presence in society may seem to yield a viable path in the short term. My concern is that it will only yield a dangerous, violent and ultimately unfulfilling new Godless church as its replacement.

Why do Godless, socialist countries end up starving?
Business Secrets from the Bible
Guidance for your personal life; guidance for your nation

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Despair and Hope

February 20th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 29 comments

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that in attempting to solve a problem we sometimes make things worse. Not only do characters in Jane Austen’s books learn this lesson, but examples abound in personal and public lives. Ronald Reagan told his son that his greatest regret was being the first governor to sign a no-fault divorce law. While his intentions were good, it was a decisive step in devaluing marriage and the traditional family, a move that has harmed men, women, children and the country.

A Wall Street Journal editorial (Feb. 20, 2020) bemoans the difficulty business are having filling blue-collar positions and concludes that we need more legal immigration since a greater percentage of young people are enrolling in college and their participation in the labor force is lessening.  I happened to read that editorial at the time that I am reading Senator Ben Sasse’s book, The Vanishing American Adult. I have just started the book, but I was intrigued by the idea he presents that the increase in mass schooling was a major factor in developing a previously non-existent youth culture in the United States. Mr. Sasse points out that in 1870 fewer than 2 percent of the population were high school graduates while by 1950, that percentage had risen to 75 percent. It is obviously higher today.


Let’s Talk, You Evil Bigot

February 13th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 23 comments

Not everything can be resolved through discussion. As my husband says, if the Pope and Planned Parenthood sat down over coffee, they will never agree about abortion.  Yet, our society seems to be moving towards the ridiculous extreme that nothing can be solved by discussion. It seems that ad hominem attacks, ascribing the worst possible motives and being unable to conceive that anyone with whom you disagree is acting in good faith are all now normal.

This idea struck me forcefully this week after seeing reactions to the half-time show at the Super Bowl. I did not see the show myself (or the game), but there wasn’t any factual disagreement about the provocative nature of Jennifer Lopez’s performance. In a column I read on a site aimed at mothers, one woman wrote that the show was soft porn and unsuitable for a sports event targeted towards families. She did not call JLo horrible names, she did not say that anyone who enjoyed the show was a pervert, she simply said that this was inappropriate for any society encouraging more respect for women.


Psst! Want to Join a Conspiracy?

February 6th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

I don’t want to be responsible for starting a new conspiracy theory, but have you noticed something strange about the language that newspapers are using when talking about Bernie Sanders’ campaign?  Democrats can certainly be concerned that his decades-long socialist leanings might not be acceptable to many Americans. That is a valid and reasonable point for the press to make.

Yet, I saw two stories and neither phrased the potential problem in those terms. A news article in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 4, 2020, speaking of Bernie Sanders’ popularity read, “That has triggered concerns among centrist Democrats who worry Mr. Trump would use [my emphasis] Mr. Sanders’ political identity to damage the party’s prospects in Midwestern battleground states…” Similarly, a CNN article I read expressed concern that President Trump would “take advantage” of Bernie Sanders’ socialist leanings to turn voters against him.


The Royals and Me

January 29th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

Initially, I didn’t think that Harry and Meghan’s choices had much to do with me. Yes, like many other people, articles about England’s royal family catch my attention, but I don’t particularly seek them out. My limited interest in TV means that I’m not sure if Meghan Markle’s show Suits was about a) a law firm b) a fashion house or c) neither of the above. I had not heard of her until she got engaged to a prince and I have too much going on in my own life to spend even a few minutes obsessing about hers. However, I have been rethinking my initial reaction.

I have to admit that as soon as the ex-HRH (his/her royal highness) couple began showing up on the Saanich Peninsula, just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, I started paying closer attention. That is my family’s “happy place” where we have spent many wonderful summers, and we really don’t want it to get a lot of attention. But that wasn’t what made me change my mind.

An article contrasting Kate Middleton’s and Meghan Markle’s adjustment to life as a royal set me thinking. While neither grew up in the palace, Kate accepted her chosen life circumstances and has been graciously enhancing the monarchy while Meghan has taken a  different direction. Perhaps, the contrast between them isn’t as disassociated from my life as I first thought it was.


The No-Musing Musing

January 23rd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

This may be the shortest Susan’s Musings I have yet written. I love writing and I love the links that my writing forge between us. I feel like I know those of you who frequently comment even though we have never met in person, and I am thrilled when some of you come up to me at events where my husband or I are speaking—or even at the airport.

I have often written about homemaking and building a family being a full-time-job. This week has served as a confirmation. On Sunday, I pulled out my recipe files and planned dinners for the week. Tonight will be the first one we are actually eating.

Our children are grown, and we are blessed to live near many of those adults and their own little ones. This week, while I did what I could, I also turned down a few requests for help and, after offering rushed good wishes, I wasn’t able to stay and celebrate with our nine-year-old birthday girl.