Monday, March 24, 2008

War and scale

It really saddens me to hear that the death toll for U.S. soldiers in Iraq has now hit the 4,000 mark.

But, whenever I hear about the human cost of this counterinsurgency, my thoughts turn to the last great American counterinsurgency, the Vietnam war, and how much of a greater loss we suffered there -- some 58,000 soldiers dead, well over 10 times the Iraq loss so far.

This smaller death toll is why a draft has not been reinstated. It is why there are not huge masses of college students protesting in the streets like there were in the 60s. It's why the nation has not been torn apart the terrible way we were then.

My heart breaks at the loss in this Iraq war, but I am also thankful that it has not reached the horrific levels of Vietnam.

It is my hope and prayer that this war will come to an end soon and that the loss of life -- so much greater for Iraqis than it has been for us -- will come to and end as well . . . . and that we will never fail to honor the sacrifice of our soldiers and their families, both in this war and in Vietnam, as well as all in the conflicts that came before them.

The image to the right, by the way, is of the final evacuation from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon on April 29, 1975.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Back on the "X"

This was the week that I celebrated the coming of Spring by going for two challenging rides on my road/touring bike. But the bike to the right -- my Xtracyle -- is the one that got me through the winter. Today, I returned to that bike and went for a short ride at lunchtime (the pic is of the bike waiting outside a coffee place for me while I enjoyed a latte this afternoon). Later, I took advantage of the bike's incredible cargo-carrying capacity by loading it with $87 of groceries, including 7 liters of drinks, a gallon of cleaning bleach and a gallon of vinegar. It handled it without a problem.

Even though I expect that the road bike will log by far more miles during Spring and Summer, I expect I will still turn to the "X" regularly. It's my "around town" bike.

I hope it will be the will of the Blessed Holy One that I will remain healthy in the coming months and will be able to enjoy many hours cruising through the Holy Creation on two wheels under the physical power that God gave me.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Crossing the river

Just, yesterday, I was telling somebody that -- even though it's less than a mile away -- I almost never cross the Schuylkill River anymore unless I am actually leaving the Reading area altogether. All of the things that are part of my current everyday life are here on the West Reading side.

But today after work I did cross the river, pedaling my bike into Reading proper and heading up to the 'Pagoda' and then to Mt. Penn's 1,000 foot-plus summit on Skyline Drive -- a climb of about 800 feet.

It's quite a challenging, but nice and steady climb on a road with nice smooth pavement and little traffic. The ride all told was about 18 miles with some thrilling, curvy descents I had never been on before. A little frightening, but the recently tuned-up touring bike's brakes are in good shape. It was a blast! . . . It's so great that with daylight savings time having started that there is a good bit of daylight after the work day. . . It feels like spring!

Here's the route (in red):

View Larger Map

Monday, March 10, 2008

Christian Kashrut?

I really did a double take when I saw this in one of my local supermarkets. The little doilies on the shelves make this look just a kosher -for-Passover section (where supermarkets put out products certified as having no leaven or other things in them that would violate Passover's special food requirements).

At first I thought that maybe it was meat-free section as part of the observance of Lent, but the sandwiches on the upper left claim to be turkey and ham.

I asked my Christian colleagues at the hospital about this and they were just as mystified as I am. If anybody has any idea what this is I would love to hear about it!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Back in the saddle (pursing the 'Lamb')

It was kind of cold today (temps mostly above freezing, but with quite a wind), but I decided to try to make it a bit of a spring day, nonetheless. I had just on Friday got my tuned up (and beloved!) touring/road bike out of the local bike shop (the pic to the left is not my actual bike; it's REI's latest version of my model; mine is three year's old and has taken me from Boston to Vermont and from here in Reading to Long Island, NY).

Today, I took the bike on the longest ride I've been on in quite some time (about 28 miles in the sunshine over beautiful, hilly Berks and Lancaster country terrain; see map, below). I'm really hoping to build some strength so I'm able to build up to doing 60 miles pretty regularly on my Sundays when the weather gets warm.

I feel like I'm off to a great start in making that possible. This winter I've managed to keep riding throughout the winter (albeit mostly very short rides after work on weekdays) and I really felt the benefit of that today -- I don't at all feel physically wasted from the ride, today. Now, of course, I think I did benefit from the cold weather (ie, I didn't sweat that much). But the last time I did this same ride I found it much more of a strain.

I really feel like I could not have managed to motivate myself to ride through the winter if it was not for my purchase of my Xtracyle along with the excellent (although, admittedly, pricey) rechargeable light I bought so that riding after work (dark in the winter!!) was not quite so intimidating.

My satisfaction with the Xtracyle has continued to grow. I have long shopped for groceries by bicycle (as I did tonight, in fact, with the touring bike). But before the Xtracycle I used to 'edit' my purchases so the bike could handle them -- always buying the small bottle of bleach, for example. With the Xtracycle I just shop for whatever I want. I have yet to buy more groceries than it can easily handle (although, admittedly, I am not shopping for a family of four!!! (I live alone)).

Below is the route me and my touring bike took, today. It's a great route that takes you out of the Delaware River Valley into the Susquehanna. The border between the two great river valleys is also pretty much the border between Berks and Lancaster counties. There's quite a difference between the two counties geographically. Berks along this border is largely wooded with some farms mixed in. Lancaster is almost all farms. Today, that also meant that it was windier (without trees to break the wind). But it's beautiful farm country and the kind of place you can still (as I did, today) see people using a horse and buggy to get around or a middle-aged, bonnet-wearing (I'm not sure if she was Amish or Mennonite) woman riding a bicycle as transportation through the winter cold. I love it!

Here's the route map:

View Larger Map

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Another kind of candidate (I passed!)

The news is full of stories these days about the contest between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. But politicians are not the only kinds of candidates there are. In the world of people who train chaplains and other spiritual caregivers becoming a candidate is an important first step in the process to become fully certified as a clinical pastoral educator and supervisor. Today I passed that step after appearing for an hour and a half before a committee of six certified educators. I am so happy!

The process of becoming certified as a supervisor/educator is an extremely demanding one that typically takes three to four years of full-time on-the-job training, but can take much longer. There is only a small number of Jews certified to do this work and not one of those is a male rabbi from the Conservative Movement. I hope to become the first one!

I would like to thank the six members of my committee -- especially my presenter, Nathan Goldberg, and my chair Robin Franklin -- for welcoming me into the certification process and for their willingness to allow me to share my story with them, including the many ups and (sometimes deeply painful) downs I have experienced on my way to becoming a rabbi and a chaplain.

During the session, I thought of master chaplain supervisor Bob Cholke, of blessed memory, and I shared with the committee what an impact on me Cholke had, especially his oft-cited comment about supervising students -- "you just have to love them," Cholke would say. Bob, I dedicate this success to you. May it be the will of the Holy Blessed One that your memory will long continue to be a blessing for us in Clinical Pastoral Education.

I would also like to thank my first supervisor, Yuko Uesugi of the UCLA Medical Center. I told the committee that I would not be here, today, if it was not for you, Yuko. It is true. Your example and your ministry to me were a tremendous gift. I also have to thank my current supervisor, Greg Stoddard. He is a true supervisor's supervisor -- a man so many look to to know how the task of Clinical Pastoral Supervision should be done. He is the master.

Thanks also to my colleagues and teachers at the Eastern Pennsylvania Institute of Clinical Pastoral Supervision (EPICS), especially Jack, who "held my hand" over pasta the night before.

And from the depths of my heart I also thank "the Gecko", who was so patient and tolerant of me through all my anxiety and panic. Whence came this great heart into my life? What did I do to merit this? What a great mercy has the Blessed Holy One had upon me.

And finally, and most of all, I would like thank my patients and my students. You have been my true teachers. I am blessed by your willingness to share your struggles and sufferings -- and your courage! -- with me. I am grateful.