I’ve been talking and writing about a lot of “new” stuff lately: new ideas, new strategies, new paradigms to stabilize and restore our bayshore. It’s clear that “same old” won’t work and we need to explore these new concepts for learning to occur that will break the cycle of failed past policies. This Saturday morning the first thing that caught my attention was this email excerpt from Kristin Lin, Editor of the On Being Project talking about new spiritual outlook:
“In 2005, Rachel Naomi Remen said something that may sound a little more ominous now:
“The world is made up of stories; it’s not made up of facts.”
A decade later, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s book Strangers in Their Own Land, about her time spent living in Louisiana among Tea Party conservatives, offered a different articulation of this with the concept of the “deep story.” “You take facts out of the deep story. You take moral precepts out of the deep story,” she explained in her On Being interview. “It’s what feels true.” Hochschild says we all have deep stories, no matter our politics and no matter the facts.
While the truth of these observations has certainly revealed itself in contemporary American political life, we also need to examine the role that story plays in our personal lives. “Sometimes we need a story more than food in order to live,” Remen says. Stories touch “something that is human in us and is probably unchanging.” They can offer structure or sense, comfort or hope. They are also how we understand each other across time — what Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie describes, particular to Judaism, as a “relay race” of contemplation and interpretation over thousands of years. So if stories are both the bedrock to humanity and part of why we feel so divided right now, where does that leave us?
Maybe the way forward is in editing and reexamining what’s in front of us. “Not everything that we’ve inherited is worthy of being passed on, like trauma and memories and values that have evolved,” Lau-Lavie says. “We need to read some of those sacred words as metaphor, as bygone models, as invitations for creativity.”
For Lau-Lavie, this call to remix and reinterpret has led to initiatives like Lab/Shul, a pop-up synagogue with a tagline that includes the language “artist-driven, everybody-friendly, God-optional,” and Storahtelling, which combines sacred storytelling with contemporary theater to make Jewish tradition more accessible to younger generations.
And perhaps there’s solace in the idea that, as Remen says, “no one’s story is ever finished.” The passing down of stories across generations allows for constant reinvention, both on the page and off. Or, as Lau-Lavie says of Lab/Shul, “We’re finding the in-between. It’s how to be cheeky without being cheesy, and how to be profound.”
It’s clear that I need a spiritual refresher to keep moving forward in a ‘post-drowning’ world. I’m not the only one. It’s easy to see the effects of decades of environmental injustice in our community: depression, substance abuse, mental illness, engrained poverty. The evil, the incompetence and the corruption continue in wealthier government employees. The financial and psychological gap between these government and industry people and the people who pay their lifestyle grows wider each year. We can’t change that. What I can do is isolate and protect myself from this oppression to a limited degree. I can expand my circle of positive people and spread a positive story. We need a story of inspiration.
This week I heard from two people, one retired and one still in government, that the division of opinion within NJDEP is widening. That’s unconfirmed hearsay. Yet I have a new letter on the stationary of the NJ Attorney General, addressed to NJ Superior Court and signed by a state attorney stating that there office has no plans of further action here in the legal assault at Money Island after devastating our community and our local businesses. They are content to extort, pillage and plunder us for decades, sue us into extinction, then leave us to bleed to death on the battlefield. The final blow was when I heard a report, also unconfirmed, that government will step up its financial assault on the few remaining local marinas. Years ago the state took over the financial land use burdens of one marina (Fortescue) but refused to do it for others (Money Island). Now I’ve heard that local taxpayers will take over the financial burdens of operating the Fortescue Marina. The mayor has publicly favored the Fortescue Marina for financial support over the few other local marinas. We’ve known that for years and there may be legitimate (even if unfair) strategic reasons for that. Yet one of the Committee members has direct financial interests in the Fortescue Marina . Yesterday a neighbor called to ask if that member has a legal obligation to abstain from approving the new financial deal that benefits him directly. I replied that the problem is far worse than that; no procedural objection is going to stop the steamrolling of local government over its citizens.
There is simply no way that a private enterprise can compete with the unlimited financial resources of government. Our local marinas lose money, for sure, that is no secret. But ill-advised government strategies, corruption and mismanagement is making this problem much worse.
Yesterday I read a text message from a stranger; apparently I did not see it for several weeks after it was sent; talking about the need for a community group to support decency in our own local community best known for its lack of it. I know good people are out there. I just need to find a way to connect in this crazy world.
So this is where I am. Let’s figure out where to go from here.