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How's Your Faith?
It’s been an honor to be with David Gregory on his many-year journey to faith as a regular study partner and friend. It’s striking to read reviews and listen to podcasts and interviews where David lays bare a raw soul. I read How’s Your Faith? in an earlier version in February and felt my eyes water several times. I just finished listening to the audiobook this week and – while I know I am biased – I was deeply moved by David’s capacity to make himself vulnerable. David is a seeker who really rode the highs and lows of life in the public eye, who struggled with his mother’s alcoholism as a child and who is negotiating an interfaith family with a wife of great strength, sensitivity and faith but not his faith.
Although David suffered a crushing fall at NBC that was very public, he was able to translate humiliation into humility. And ultimately, into greater tranquility. It forced him to think about what truly matters to him without losing the complexity of religion in the 21st century.
We’re entering the seventh year of studying together on a semi-regular basis, and a recent moment strikes me as particularly poignant. Our usual study haunts were in his office at NBC studios or a Bethesda Starbucks on Wisconsin Avenue. I never worried that we would run out of topics. I worried about getting a good parking space.
On a recent afternoon we sat in the back of the Starbucks at our usual table. This year, they renovated, made the tables smaller and added another table in "our" back corner. This made faith conversations a little more awkward. Our table was heavy with books. In David’s search for a prayer practice that felt realistic and aspirational, we were studying the morning blessings in a traditional Jewish prayer book and discussing their personal meaning and relevance for David. We talked in our usual conversational style and decibel level not realizing that the young man behind a laptop on the next table was listening in.
When he finished his latte – or whatever he was drinking – he packed up his things and turned to us. “You know, I’ve been overhearing a little bit of your conversation…” I was waiting for him to ask David the usual question we get when we are in a public space: “Are you David Gregory?” I’m just a short Jewish girl from New Jersey with brown hair, but it’s hard not to notice a 6’5” broadcast journalist with telegenic hair in Starbucks. It’s nice to watch well-wishers say how much they loved his show or how much they miss him. But that was not this stranger's point. “I couldn’t help noticing that you were talking about really important things. I just never hear stuff like that. Thanks. Good to know people still care.”
When is the last time you had a really meaningful conversation that touched your mind, heart and soul in Starbucks?
David and I have studied many of the five books of the Pentateuch, Ethics of the Fathers, lots of chapters of Prophets and Scriptures, some of the influential texts of Maimonides and the character development texts of the 18th and 19th century mussar movement. In the past few years, we’ve tried to structure our learning less around foundational texts as much as important issues that demand personal growth and reflection: how to respond to anger, gossip, joy, sadness, loss. We've identified biblical verse that have become important to David's spiritual path. David has a wide emotional range, and he is a good “catcher” – when he sees a character flaw, he wants to tackle it with the intensity that he would use on TV when asking questions in an interview. I’ve taught for 27 years, and it’s rare to find an adult student who doggedly commits to a path and tries to figure out life with David’s tenacity, especially when dealing with a sometimes toxic workplace. It’s not always easy to be your best self in an environment that is more about competition than character.
I am a little wary of the term "journeys." At times, it feels too subjective and shallow or an excuse for a lack of commitment. I think we need to introduce more destinations into the language of journeying, way-stations that signify important adult transitions and spiritual milestones. Where do I want to go? How am I going to get there? How will I know if I have arrived? When is it time for a new challenge? As a result of study, prayer, mindfulness, and personal goal setting, am I a changed person? Unquestionably, David's faith journey has included many unexpected destinations.
The poet Rumi wrote:
Knock, And He'll open the door
Vanish, And He'll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He'll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He'll turn you into everything.
Maybe to the outside world, leaving “Meet the Press” made David look like he lost it all. But that’s precisely when Rumi’s words touch us most: “Become nothing, And He’ll turn you into everything.”
Weekly Jewish Wisdom
OCT 1, 2015
A Fly in the Ointment
If it's Sukkot, it must be time for a little dip into Ecclesiastes, that great biblical book of wisdom and contradiction. On the Shabbat of Sukkot, we read this book in synagogue, not sure if we should absorb its cynicism, feel undone by its doom or rejoice at its profundity. Maybe all three form our reaction.
Every year, I like to take a verse from the book and study it in depth. Today's verse opens chapter ten on the odd note of a perfumer's ointment. The verse has an important context. In the closing chapters of Ecclesiastes, we find a repeated contrast between intelligence and foolishness. The fool makes poor decisions. Even good decisions go south in the hands of a fool. And the fool is great at advertising his idiocy: "A fool's mind is also wanting when he travels, and he lets everybody know he is a fool" (10:3).
Tweets on the Today's Page of Talmud (Daf Yomi)
"Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor," Sholom Aleichem.
Nazir 43a: A person renders others impure only when his soul departs from him." Death is not about peace but about passivity. Doing is life.