Jews in Utah

I have trouble focusing, sometimes. I think it’s because I’m not too good at ignoring whatever is really going on.

It’s like when somebody takes me to ‘lunch’ to talk about his or her career goals. When I’m eating lunch, I get completely distracted by the lunch, itself. And all the people in the restaurant. And imagining the experience of the waiters, or pondering the rationale behind the arrangement of the tables. I’m not sure whether it’s a form of zen in-the-moment focus, or attention deficit dissorder. I just find it hard to focus on anything other than What’s Really Going On, right there, right then. The majority of my writing, in a sense, concerns my own and others’ inability to figure that out in a particular instance, or success in doing so against all odds.

Of course, “what’s really going on” is largely up to us. Not just because how we interpret events has some effect on their outcome – but because we are active participants in the unfolding of our reality, whether we like to believe it or not.

This was the premise underlying the weekend summit I facilitated in Utah, where 40 of us got together to discuss what, if anything, we felt like doing about Judaism and Jewishness. (Jewishness being a bigger category – something that goes beyond religion to describe an individual or group identity.) The part that felt the best was coming to understand how Judaism was meant as an open source tradition; it was designed to be modified by its participants. It is a religion whose theology can change – God moves from being a creature to an (almost) non-existent concept – as long as the changes end up allowing for a more just society.

Of course, the institutions “in charge” of Judaism have not fostered the kinds of changes that would have allowed this once-progressive set of ideas to evolve fruitfully. The establishment of a nation state fueled messianic visions, and may have concretized some ideas that should have been kept more fluid. So everything is pretty stagnant, and the religion is in dire need of renaissance.

This is tricky enough to do during good times – but try talking about it during a religious/ethnic war. (Or writing a book about it, for that matter.) Still, the participants embraced the “open source” ethos, and dug into the religion as if they really were in charge. Which is precisely the world view I’ve been trying to sell from the beginning: we are in charge – or at least in charge of a whole lot more than we realize.

I’ll post some more “normal” thoughts and essays once I’ve unpacked – physically and mentally – from the trip.