Thursday, February 19, 2009

I think I may have found a new mentor!

In the sense of I want to learn more about this Rabbi:

What G-d Can Learn From Us

Matches a lot of what I've been feeling and thinking and wanting to say. I don't know that I'd say it's our role to teach G-d, but I have no problem with that idea. And his commentary about our pediatric relationship with G-d resonates strongly with me. Children see their parents as perfect beings; adults see them as flawed individuals, and are thereby capable of much deeper bonds with them.


Partially just because it's a fun word to say:

Their original model is consolidating micropayments to help make blogs and other new media more profitable; you send Kachingle X dollars per month, which they divide evenly between all the participating blogs you visit that month. Sounds like you can even fine tune the distribution of your donation by visiting your favorite blogs more often, so instead of splitting my $10 evenly four ways I could rig it to give one site $5 and $1.25 to each of the rest. Obviously no one's going to get rich on some fraction of my $10, but the idea is that a constant stream of nickles from a large mass of readers eventually adds up to useful amounts of money.

My mind went straight to non-profit fundraising when I read this. It's an electronic variation on the United Way model: we donate money to a central source that takes the massed quantity and divides among their member organizations. Biggest difference is that instead of being filtered through a political and frequently arbitrary selection committee, I can personally allocate my money. I'd be interested to learn the imact of this on tax donations; you can choose for the receiving organization to see your name, which to me means you can document your donation. Any tax attorneys/accountants out there want to comment?

Easy way to make this work without bending their model too much: post a blog for your organization. Doesn't need to be major, doesn't need to be great. Just be sure to update it regularly, encourage your members to participate in Kachingle, and remind them to click the "donate" button every time they come to the page.

Other thought: this becomes a good way to track use of different services, and demonstrate ROI to the members. Kind of a "pay to play" function, and a good way to catch those members that donate least but use the largest portion of your resources.

Let me know if anyone out there tries this; I'd love to hear how it goes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Shout-Out to the D-Man!

“The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic”

“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”

“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.”

“We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universes, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.”

The Rabbi said tonight that this weekend is "Science Shabbat", if I have that right, in honor of Darwin's 200th birthday, and the 150th anniversary of "On the Origin of the Species", so I want to talk about science for a moment.

I never understood the whole science/religion debate; why are these two things separate and irreconcilable? We are told G-d made the world, but the book is awfully vague as to how. Assuming knowledge about G-d's ways is the height of arrogance; what special source told you G-d does not use evolution? And from the other direction, the more I learn about science, the more depth and detail we discover, the more I have to believe there's some guiding force behind it - Maimonides's "unmoved mover"; the mere fact that the system works and is so darn complicated suggests some originating power.

If G-d created everything, then G-d also created the natural laws that scientists use. G-d created all of matter and of its properties, including things like gravity, electromagnitism, molecular mass, and, yes, evolution. Giving G-d direct responsibility for the end products of the system is akin to - and I know people will love this example - giving Bill Gates credit for this essay since I wrote it originally in MS Word. Created the rules, created the system, yes; it was other users that crafted the end products.

Fun fact: The word "science" shares a root with "scythe", deriving from the Greek root meaning "to seperate". Which means science is the procss of seperating things, at ever increasing levels of detail, until we have seperated a thing down to its smallest possible category. What's an electron? To fully answer that I have to explain why it's not a proton. The first modern science was taxonomy - seperating animals into categories by kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. So who was the first Biblical scientist?


And people think science and religion are incompatable?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wait; who planted these trees?

“Pray as if everything depended on G-d and act as if everything depended on man.”
-Francis Cardinal Spellman

A story:

The news went out around town: a huge flood was coming! Immediate evacuation was ordered, and people began leaving town as quickly as possible. At the local temple, there was a honking noise; outside was the head of the Sunday School, in a van full of congregants.

“Rabbi,” said the head of the Sunday School, “we have an extra seat. Come with us!”

“No,” said the Rabbi. “Drive safely, and lead these people well. I shall remain here; I have faith that G-d will save me.”

The van left and the waters continued to rise. Soon the streets were impassable, The Rabbi moved to the second floor of the temple, water lapping at his ankles. There was a knocking at the window; outside was the Cantor, in a motorboat full of refugees.

“Rabbi,” said the Cantor, “we have an extra seat. Come with us!”

“No,” said the Rabbi. “Sail safely, and lead these people well. I shall remain here; I have faith that G-d will save me.”

The motorboat left and the waters continued to rise. Soon the building was flooded. The Rabbi moved to the roof of the temple, water lapping at his ankles. There was a great noise and a rush of wind; above was the President of the Congregation, in a helicopter full of rescue workers.

“Rabbi,” said the President, “we have an extra seat. Come with us!”

“No,” said the Rabbi. “Fly safely, and lead these people well. I shall remain here; I have faith that G-d will save me.”

The helicopter left and the waters continued to rise. Soon they rose above the Rabbi’s head. He swam until he could no longer move, and then the waters covered him and he drowned. He awoke in Heaven, facing the Great Judge.

“Adonai,” said the Rabbi, “I had faith in you. How could you let me drown?”

“But Rabbi,” said HaShem, “I sent you a van, a motorboat, and a helicopter; how much more did you need?”


So why does this story remind me of Tu B’shvat?

The harvest holidays present an interesting quandary to my mind; we gather to pray and thank G-d for the plentiful harvest, or to ask for a good crop to come. We learn that all things come from G-d, the creator of ha-kol ha-olam, the entire world. Well if that’s so, why do the farmers have to work so hard?

The community that casts seeds upon the earth and then waits, as the Rabbi in the story, for G-d to provide bountiful harvest will soon perish, starving to death with prayers on their lips. Praying for wisdom will not help you pass a test if you neglect your studies. And an ever increasing body of research shows that people that fall ill and pray for health will quickly grow worse if they do not also petition a doctor. In fact, not since the Exodus from Egypt has a community fed itself literally on their prayers to Heaven.

What then is the role of prayer?

It is a sort of reverse blasphemy to say motzi before eating, thanking G-d for “bringing forth bread from the ground” while completely neglecting the farmer, the miller, the baker, and – in our modern world – all the truckers, grocery store employees, FDA inspectors, tractor manufacturers, and entrepreneurs without whom the bread that G-d brought forth from the ground would never reach our table.

The Old Shul answer would be something along the lines of, “Yes, but it is only through HaShem that they are able to do so!” I don’t like that one; feels like a cop out. Rather, think of it as a reminder; before you plant, before you harvest, before you cook, before you eat, remember. There is a way to do this, to feed the people while living in harmony with the world. To feed your family while caring for the community.

My Catholic friend uses a grace that I have come to deeply appreciate. It says, allowing for misquotation, “bless the hands that prepared this food, and bless this food that we may use it in thy service.” Smoothly invoking, recognizing, and thanking the involvement of G-d in the process, while reminding and recommitting us to our duty as ethical human beings.

We pray for inspiration and dedication, but the action is all on us.

Happy Tu B’shvat; let’s go hug a tree!