My help comes from Adonai

An image of the Calder sculpture in downtown Grand Rapids Michigan with a sign held up in front of it that says Hate Has No Home Here in several languages.
Last night, I (and a few hundred other people) went to a candlelight vigil sponsored by Temple Emanuel, Congregation Ahavas Israel, Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids, and Chabad House of Western Michigan in response to the murder of 11 people at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh last week. As with the other outdoor candlelight vigil I went to this past summer, it was too breezy to keep my candle lit. But unlike the last time, I was prepared: I’d downloaded a flashlight app on my phone so I held the candle next to that light. One intrepid boy had brought a battery-powered candle. Some in the crowd passed out tin foil squares to put around the candles to protect them from the breeze, but they interfered with the sound system, creating feedback and causing it to go out for several minutes after the speakers began, so those had to go away. I watched Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky try to fix the speakers, with no luck. By the fourth speaker, the microphones were working, but I know I missed some good words. On the one hand, it was a beautiful event. Any time people come together to support one another in mourning and try to reach for hope is a good thing. But people are, well, people. There were mutterings about not being able to hear. The Jewish women I stood near had varying opinions about the speakers and what they had to say. I was impressed that each speaker spoke fully out of their religious tradition: the Imam told the story of Cain and Abel using names from the Koran (different from the Torah and Bible names), and the Hindu woman prayed to God as Mother and omm-ed (which echoed around Calder Square). Rabbi Michael Schadick of Temple Emanuel was the first to speak, his first words very simple: “We are here for shalom.” Shalom is one of those words that we can’t unpack with only one English word: peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, wellbeing, and tranquility. He spoke about the man who murdered 11 worshippers at Tree of Life Temple in Pittsburgh:
“He hoped to kill our spirit, but he strengthened it.”
The cantor of Temple Emanuel lead the crowd in a song of Psalm 133 (CJB). Read the words while you listen to the song:

Oh, how good, how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in harmony.

It is like fragrant oil on the head that runs down over the beard, over the beard of Aharon, and flows down on the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon that settles on the mountains of Tziyon. For it was there that Adonai ordained the blessing of everlasting life.

Rev. David Baak, executive pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church was the next to speak, and after him was Rev. Joe Jones, Second Ward City Commissioner. Jones quoted George Washington Carver:
Fear of something is at the root of hate for others, and hate within will eventually destroy the hater.
Jones also spoke about forgiveness being integral to the ability to love, which is true, but the women around me were not ready to hear that. I’ve certainly had seasons when I was not ready to talk forgiveness, when I had to ask God to make me even want to want to forgive. But how do you forgive a man who hates your people enough to murder them in their place of worship? To scream his hatred of Jews while being cared for by Jewish medical professionals? How do you forgive a murderer when you know that there are others out there like him, and because of that, you have to have armed guards at your synagogue? It feels like forgiving the ideology and culture that spawned those beliefs and that hatred. Imam Morsy Salem of PLACE spoke next. It was such an interesting experience to listen to him unpack the story of Cain and Abel, aka Qābīl and Hābīl, but his message was clear: do not hate each other, do not kill each other. Rabbi Yosef Weingarten of Chabad House said about prayer that it isn’t merely an opportunity to ask for what you need:
Prayer provides us with the opportunity to align our body and our soul with the…God above. In these moments of unspeakable pain, as we search for answers, we take refuge in our traditions–[in our Jewish tradition, mourning is not just about pain], but hope and conviction.”
He encouraged all of us to add just one small act of kindness in our daily lives to build each other up. In honor of the members and police officers who were injured in the shooting at Tree of Life, Rabbi Weingarten and Chief Rahinsky read Psalm 121 (CJB) as a prayer, the Rabbi in Hebrew and the Chief in English:

If I raise my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? My help comes from Adonai, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip — your guardian is not asleep. No, the guardian of Isra’el never slumbers or sleeps.

Adonai is your guardian; at your right hand Adonai provides you with shade — the sun can’t strike you during the day or even the moon at night.

Adonai will guard you against all harm; he will guard your life. Adonai will guard your coming and going from now on and forever.

Following him were Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute and Rev. Colleen Squires of All Souls Community Church. Rev. Squires is a regular attender at Grand Rapids Association of Pastor meetings, so I know her a little bit. I was moved by the emotion in her voice as she talked about the hospitality of Congregation Ahavas Israel, which has given All Souls the space to worship for the last 13 years, and how it was both right and weighty to walk into their mutual building for services the day after the shooting. Then came Teresa Thome of Self-Realization Fellowship (representing the Hindu faith) and Dr. Doug Kinshi of GVSU’s Kaufman Interfaith Center. Rabbi David Krishev of Congregation Ahavas put it in stark words:
The question, ‘Am I willing to give up my life for my faith,’ is a question we don’t want to hear, and don’t want to answer. It is a question we thought we’d left behind.
He went on to list the people of various faiths who are being killed due to their beliefs. His desire was simple: “We, as people who believe in the power of religious community, want to continue to gather at our places of worship openly…and safely.” Rabbi Schadick closed the event with a song from the end of the mourner’s Kaddish, lead by a soloist from Temple Emanuel:
He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
It was a wonderful event, full of talk of love and respect and standing together against hate. I loved the use of Adonai instead of “the Lord” in the passages read; if felt so intimate. My favorite part was the singing–listening to those ancient words being sung all around me, all known by heart, was powerful. Those words have been said and sung in that form for many thousands of years. Those words and those messages have survived. They’ve survived many attempts to eradicate them and those who speak them, and they’ll survive this one, too. I’ll add a few more from Psalm 95:7-8 (NLT) as my prayer for my fellow Christians who are consumed with fear and hate:
If only you would listen to his voice today! The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts…” 

Confusion and Curiosity

I’ve been wondering about confusion and curiosity.

A few days after Christmas, the adults on my Hart side got together at my parents’ for dinner and a movie my parents adore: The Tree of Life. My father, especially, loves this movie. He’d seen it three times already, and will see it at least another three. He loves it so much and finds it so deep and affecting that he wants to show it to everyone he knows.

I did not have the same reaction. To put it mildly.

I was alternately bored, confused, irritated, interested, annoyed, impatient, analytical. I spent the entire movie in my own head, and not in any of the characters’ heads. I didn’t experience the story. I observed it. This is not what I prefer. I like story. I learn through story. And Tree of Life is not interested in storytelling.

But that’s not what got me wondering. It was our discussion afterwards, in which I was (see Beginnings for my admission) too negatively passionate. My dad was making a point, based on brain research, that when we are presented with something confusing and tense, our emotions are engaged, to which I may have screeched, “What?!”

Because, for me, when I’m confused, my emotions disengage, and I become skeptical about everything. And if I don’t trust the artist/thinker to lead me out of the confusion, I turn off almost completely.

However, what he said is close to standard writing advice: there should be an overarching story question that fuels the story; when the question is resolved, the story is over. In addition, there should be lots of minor story questions, in service to the overarching one, to keep the tension, and the reader, hurtling towards the end. In fact, I’m organizing the David and Saul story into three books according to this advice. Book 1: Why did Samuel anoint David? Book 2: When and how will David become king? Book 3: Will David be a king after God’s own heart?

This led me to wonder about the differences between confusion and curiosity. Imagine the body language of each of those states. A person curious about something leans forward, their face is open, they’re driven forward. A confused person is frowning, their arms might be crossed, which hunches the shoulders in. Confusion is a state someone is in. Curiosity leads a person to inquire and investigate.

To be fair, my dad explained himself better in a follow-up email:

The book I referenced was Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman. “Fast” thinking is intuitive, subconscious thinking and “slow” is rational, conscious thinking.  A very good book – full of counter-intuitive findings.

What I recall saying is something to the effect that we are more fully engaged, more alert and more attentive when a situation activates both types of thinking. For example, the Tree of Life film operates on the intuitive level through music and picture. But if it only operates on that level, we might fall asleep. By adding material that puzzles us and motivates slow thinking, we are more attentive, more alert and more engaged.

I can get behind that. With one caveat. Like with everything else, people have differing thresholds for stimuli. My extroverted husband is energized by crowd situations that overwhelm or exhaust me. My physicist brother-in-law understands things I can’t even begin to conceive. And the line wherein curiosity shifts to confusion, wherein a puzzle no longer interests, is shorter for some than for others.

In other words, in art, your mileage may vary.