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March 2006
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Prog Faith Blog Con panel update

A while back I posted a call for panel ideas for the Progressive Faith Blog Con. I'm delighted with the response; we've brainstormed a terrific list of possible panels. They aggregate loosely into three categories:

Religion and ecumenism

  • Is our religious blogosphere open or closed? Is there communication and community across denominational (or faith) lines, or are we circling the wagons and conversing only with our own?

  • Deep ecumenism in the blogosphere: how can we ensure that our connections with one another go beyond blogrolling and into real dialogue? Do we agree that we want to broaden our religious worlds by connecting with bloggers of other traditions, and if so, how can we enact that in reality? How about connecting with bloggers who share our religious labels, but don't share our approach to our traditions?

  • Scripture study: Many of us use our blogs for scripture study and text discussion. How can we learn from and with one another?

  • Different ways of praying/knowing God; learning more about the rituals and traditions of other faiths.

  • Personal journeys. To religion. To blogging. To progressive politics. To wherever you are now.

  • How/if blogging affects one's career as a religious leader and vice versa.

  • What are some skillful means by which we can engage the "other?" In other words, we've done some talking about progressive bloggers and conservative ones. Our con has been planned as taking an oppositional stance to the (conservative) GodBlogCon. How do we bridge the gap? Is it possible? How do we build the kind of compassionate dialogue we need, or at least can we identify the common grounds/issues on which to start conversations?

  • Links between the progressive religious blogosphere and already existing progressive religious organizations, both new and old. Bloggers obviously need to keep their independence, but building up relationships with staffers at some of these activist organizations could be very fruitful for all involved.

Activism and politics

  • Getting larger, getting louder: Too often the blogosphere seems dominated by liturgical, theological, and political conservatives. How can we get more progressives blogging, and blogging in a way that makes a difference?

  • Religion and activism. How does faith drive political activism? The role of Jews and Christians in the American Civil Rights Movement, for example. Liberation theology in the campaign to end Apartheid in South Africa. Radical Islam as a force in world politics today. Hinduism and Gandhi's legacy. Buddhism and environmentalism.

  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seen through a religious lens. It would be challenging, but also potentially tremendously valuable, to have an interfaith dialogue on this topic.

  • Jeffrey Stout has a thesis that our society is not secularizing in the way fundamentalists fear, but rather that it is asking those folks to deal with the plurality of religious beliefs present in our society. Fundamentalist fears are primarily fear of being displaced, of losing their privilege. How do we observe this dynamic in the blogosphere? Is the dominance of conservative religious bloggers a strategic move to "colonize" as it were another space? How do we bring this issue of plurality and "democratic secularization" (no dominance for one religious tradition) to the broader blogosphere?

  • Religion and Politics - Religion could be viewed simply as those values that bind a community together. By what values are we bound together?

  • Providing a pathway to progressivism - There are many people I am connected to that have a sense something is deeply wrong, but they have no idea how to "get there from here." Further, they may have ideas about progressive politics that are rooted in their training and upbringing, and they would describe progressive thought as "liberal" or wrong morally. How can we provide a path to these women and men?

  • In it for the long haul - It took a particular group of people nearly 40 years (36, to be precise) to gain the lock on power that they now possess. How long are we willing to work? Are we willing to take a series of small, (ironically) progressive steps over several decades to gain a governing coalition?

Blogging and the con itself

  • Technical blogging topics. How to increase site traffic. What's new in blogging. Comparative software. Extending your blog's capabilities. Etc.

  • How to get my voice out there, how to get more exposure, and most of all, how to get paid for some of it!

  • Roundtable discussions for current users based on specific technical blogging topics: e.g., roundtables relating to specific blogging software; a roundtable on CSS; a roundtable on podcasting; etc.

  • How can our blogs, and our network, enrich themselves/itself from good theoretical models about networked communities? Lots of neat and good research on network communities -- how can we use it to enhance our own network of progressive faith bloggers?

  • Finally - it might be helpful to schedule some working groups as to transform energy into action - plan future conferences, develop strategies for collective action, perhaps create an organization of progressive faith bloggers.

As the schedule stands now, we have five panel slots. It'll be tough to limit ourselves to only five of these ideas! If you have more ideas for panels, drop 'em as comments here, soon; we intend to hammer out a rough schedule by the end of this month.

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Coffee with the Soferet!

I'm not sure how long I've been reading Netivat Sofrut, Aviel Barclay's "diary of a soferet." It's been a part of the landscape of my blogosphere for ages. Once upon a time her blog's tagline reminded readers that if we hadn't said the bracha for Torah study yet today we should do so before reading, since we were guaranteed to encounter some Torah on her pages. I think that was the first thing about Aviel that made me want to know her.

Many of her posts stay with me long after their posting date. Like Derekh Sofrut, which tells the story of her journey to this work. And Hardcore teen sofrut, which includes a wonderful anecdote about a sleeveless dress and preconceptions relating to modesty. And Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha-Aretz, a story about wheat and bread and Torah. In the sidebar of her blog, Aviel describes herself as a "scribal evangelist," writing,

As the only living certified Soferet (סופרת - female Jewish ritual scribe) & the first woman to practice sofrut (creation of sacred Hebrew texts) in over 200 years, I feel an obligation to blog about my experiences of The Work.

Today I had the profound pleasure of making our online relationship into an in-person one! We met at Uncommon Grounds in Saratoga Springs, a delightful indie coffeeshop complete with painted hammered-tin ceilings, shiny art, and a zillion different coffee drinks chalked in rainbow colors on a set of enormous blackboards. We spent two hours there, completely oblivious to the passage of time.

We talked about her life, and mine; about the work that brought her out here (speaking at Skidmore, and the chance to stay with Rabbi Linda Motzkin and Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein, both of whom I met  briefly); about what I've been up to (hospital chaplaincy) and what she's been up to (curing deer skins into usable form -- expect a blog post from her about that soon.) We talked about the preconceptions liberal Jews tend to have about Orthodox Jews, and vice versa; about interfaith dialogue and friendships; about rabbis and imams and teachers and students; about what we learn in relationships; about the joys of davvening in a variety of Jewish settings.

I felt like I'd known her for years. Of course, I had; I just didn't know what she looked like or sounded like, or what it would feel like to sit across a table from her and talk. It's too bad Vancouver is so far from western Massachusetts; something tells me we'd have regular dates for coffee, study, and conversation if we didn't live on opposite ends of the continent. Well -- there's always the internet, and I feel blessed to have Aviel in my life in any context.

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My last service, for a while.

This weekend I led my last Shabbat service for a while. The first half of Jeff's sabbatical ends later this week; I won't lead services again until the second half of his sabbatical begins in late June.

It was a good service. I played around a little bit with pesukei d'zimrah, adding a few things I don't usually do, just for the fun of it. I offered some of the little explanations I like best -- I prefaced baruch she'amar (the blessing praising God Who speaks worlds into being) with the reminder that our words, too, can create worlds, and that we should be mindful of the words we speak this Shabbat. And before the ashrei, I offered one of Rav Kook's teachings (drawn from the Talmud) about saying it three times a day.

We didn't have a minyan, but we had a good discussion of the first Torah portion in Leviticus anyway. People had interesting things to say about the system of sacrifices and how it might, or might not, relate to the worship we offer today. As discussion-starters I offered Sacrifices and Passover by Richard Spitz, and an excerpt from Where Does the Spirit of Sacrifice Take Us? by Rabbi Jeffrey Schein.

We sang the closing song with gusto, as always, and as we were heading into the social hall for kiddush the rabbi shook my hand and quietly said "yasher koach" -- literally it means "may your strength be firm," but colloquially it means "good job." That made me feel really good.

Funny how quickly routine becomes familiar. In only two months I've developed a rhythm of opening up the shul, and closing it up again. I unlock the door, turn off the alarm, ready the sanctuary. Then the service; I almost don't need my bright orange post-it notes anymore, reminding me which prayers to start low and which to sing high. Then, after the service and the kiddush when everyone's gone, I do the synagogue-opening process in reverse. It felt a little bit strange to move through that checklist for the last time this spring. I'm definitely looking forward to my rabbi's return, but I'll miss leading services. I'm glad I get to do it again later in the year.

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