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Winning the Lottery, with some Powerball® thoughts (a series of “missing” posts) March 24, 2022

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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, and/or starting a new year!

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, March 16th, which was when I talked about Purim, with a little note related to Thursday, March 17th and Saturday, March 19th! (But this is not the story you think it is.) You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”

*

– quoted from Journals (IV A 164), 1843 by Søren Kierkegaard

You know how there are some stories, like the Star Wars movies, that begin as one thing and then over time and generations become something else? That question can be answered as it relates to the story, but here I am specifically talking about the sequence.* When the original movie came out in May of 1977, it was just Star Wars. When the next movies came out – in May of 1980 and May of 1983 – they had their own titles. However, if someone referred to them numerically, they would be first, second, and third (or 1, 2, and 3). Fast forward over two decades from the originally released movie and there were prequels, which (while I am loath to admit they exist) changed the order of things. Fast forward another decade (going on two) and there were (pretty amazing) sequels to the originally released movies. The story continues… and I love that.

I love of stories and storytelling. I think it’s fascinating that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously work forwards and back. We don’t always think about it, but the way the Star Wars movies were released is actually how we meet and how most of the stories we read, hear, and watch work too. It’s very rare that we meet characters at the beginning of creation. A story usually begins in the middle or at the end. So, part of what I love about storytelling is how the storyteller (or the story) chooses to unfold the tale. In fact, part of the beauty of the story is watching it unfold.

One of my favorite stories – in part, because the way the story unfolds is part of the story – is the story people tell on Purim. It is the story in and around The Megillah or The Megillat Esther.

In case you are unfamiliar with the holiday and the story, Purim [פּוּרִים] is a Hebrew word meaning “lots” – as in “casting lots” or “lottery.” It is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the story told in the Megillah (“scroll”) of Esther, which is the story of how Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from the evil plot of a man whose actions are good examples of someone who was narcissistic, power hungry, and also anti-Semitic. The “Book of Esther” is not only found in the Hebrew Bible it is also one of the five megillot (“scrolls”) that make up part of the Christian Old Testament. Some people think of it as a great story about the power of a woman – and while it is that, it is also something more; because the story has a lot of “hidden” elements.

The story is quite literally about things that “someone” decided to “hide and hide” [הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר].

“Another approach, found already in rabbinic literature, takes the absence of God as a positive statement made by the author. The Rabbis, and numerous other readers since, understood the literary absence of God to be merely a surface-level fact, and in fact to be a subtle argument for the hiddenness of God, rather than his absence. A Talmudic comment (in B. Hullin 139b) playfully asks, ‘What is the source for Esther in the Torah?’ The answer given is that Esther was foretold in Deuteronomy 31:18: ‘I will indeed hide (haster astir) my face on that day.’ In part this is a pun, linking the name Esther to the Hebrew phrase ‘I will indeed hide’ (haster astir), but in part it is a serious theological claim: where did the Torah foretell a story with no God?”

*

– quoted from “8. Diaspora revisions: rethinking Exodus and rethinking God – Entering the fray: Esther as a political book” in Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought by Aaron Koller

People celebrate Purim by dressing up in costume – hiding one’s true identity – and having a party or feast. People may also have a parade and a pageant. The costuming and the party (even the parades and pageants) are all, symbolically, part of the story. To add yet another symbol from the story, the feasting includes hamantaschen, a yummy triangular shaped pastry that I always think of as Haman’s hat, but which literally means “Haman’s pockets.” In some Jewish communities they are referred to as “Haman’s ears.”

The story is symbolically reinforced in many different ways during the celebration of Purim, because the biggest part of the holiday is the story itself. In fact, listening to a public reading of the Book of Esther, in the evening (since the holiday starts at sunset) and in the morning, is one of four mitzvoh (“commandments”) related to Purim. The other three take place during the day and are sending food gifts to friends; giving charity to the poor; and eating a festive meal.

While I don’t read the actual text** to people during the practice, I do tell the story. And for years, I have used the music to help me tell the story – just like I do with all the other stories. Up until this year, however, my Purim playlist was a little… shall we say, problematic. Because there was something hidden in my playlist – and not in a good way.

“This desert rose
Whose shadow bears the secret promise
This desert flower
No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this
And now she turns
This way she moves in the logic of all my dreams
This fire burns
I realize that nothing’s as it seems”

*

– quoted from the song “Desert Rose” by Sting

Some of my playlists have always reflected the culture behind the story or theme of the day. For instance, my Saint Patrick’s Day playlist is full of Irish musicians and musicians with Irish heritage, just like my Cinco de Mayo playlist is full of musicians with Mexican heritage. As I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, I’ve very deliberately made some playlists multi-cultural to highlight the fact that so many cultures celebrate things like light overcoming darkness. Then, years ago, a friend’s comment really made me consider why my playlists mostly featured men. Despite all that, I never really considered that there was something off about my Purim playlist.

And, that takes us back to why certain songs were popular, while other also very good songs were not as popular.

“It’s so not an accident that most of the kirtan and “yoga music artists” on our playlists are NOT from within the tradition. (It is called erasure and happens to people of color in our own traditions ALL THE TIME.)⁣⁣⁣”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

Susanna Barkataki is a yoga advocate, a teacher, a public speaker, and the author of Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. In her book, her articles, and her classes, she encourages students and teachers to (re)connect to yoga’s ancient roots. She strongly recommends that teachers consider why they do the things they do (and say the things they say) when teaching. She also suggests that teachers take a look at how some of the things we say and do are the result of colonization and cultural erasure. However, she does not simply point to how elements of our modern, Western-centric practice are problematic. She also offers tools and solutions. For instance, she specifically points to music and highlights the fact that those of us using kirtan – which is a form of bhakti or devotional yoga – are almost always using non-traditional musicians. Sometimes, even using musicians that mispronounce the Sanskrit words.

To be clear, Ms. Barkataki uses the words “cultural erasure,” but it’s a concept I’ve always known as whitewashing. And, above and beyond anything else, she encourages us all to be mindful about the choices we make. Being mindful meant that when I was getting ready for Purim this year, I realized that in most of the ways that counted, my culturally-specific playlist was specifically the wrong culture.

In my effort to pick songs that told the story, I neglected to pick Jewish musicians. Even worse, given the context of the story, my original playlist included several songs with Arabic lyrics and/or Arabic-related references that had nothing to do with Jewish heritage. To be clear about my own hubris, I knew this… I just leaped over the issue. In some ways, my mental gymnastics included the fact that those songs could be about a Jewish woman like Esther. They could very easily have been songs written by people who didn’t know their beautiful “Persian” queen was born Hadassah. Anything is possible.

However, the reality was that they were just popular songs that were also really good, worked with the practice, and could fit the story. They were songs that I knew, because I had heard them on the radio.

“Erasure is when the originators of a particular tradition are surpassed, replaced or ignored. Why? Because it makes it easier to colonize and exploit our cultural and spiritual wisdom and wealth.”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

I recently heard a young, up-and-coming artist compare achieving a huge milestone to winning the lottery. For sure, I can see that. Especially when you consider how many people commented on the fact that this artist hit this much deserved milestone, before his much lauded collaborator. (Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a big fan of both artists, but there’s something more than talent at play here.) I think having a hit song is also like that. Because while there is a lot of hard work that goes into creating a hit song, there’s also a lot of luck. It’s like that old adage about how you can’t win if you don’t play. Of course, most people who play, don’t win – at least not really big – and it’s the same thing with being a big star in music.

Streaming services and social media mean that a lot of hustle and marketing on the part of the artist (and their community) can get an artist noticed today, in a way they couldn’t get noticed 20-plus years ago. That attention can really push a song up the charts. However, we’re still in a time time when songs are hits (in part) because they are played on the radio. And for all that hustle, many songs are played on the radio because of the way the musician looks. This is true across genres. This is even more so when it comes to music in and from certain countries and cultures. Being talented and having the “right” size, complexion, ethnicity, and (on a certain level) gender and sexuality, is like hitting the Powerball®.

“The Multi-State Lottery Association encourages all lottery players to be responsible in their amount of play.

For some people gambling can become a problem. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, there are a number of helpful resources listed below.

National Council on Problem Gambling
24 Hour Confidential National Helpline
Call: 1-800-522-4700
Chat: ncpgambling.org/chat
Text: 1-800-522-4700

Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators

*

– quoted from the “Play Responsibly” tab on the Powerball® website

While I’ve been known to play bingo in a church basement (for charity and the chance to win a homemade quilt), I’m not really one to play the lottery. My limited understanding, however, is that there’s a lot of different ways you can win with a Powerball®. However, just like with music and other things that could make you wealthy beyond your dreams, you have to be responsible and avoid the scams. You have to balance the temptation and your desire with reality. The reality, again, being that if you don’t play you don’t win, but most people don’t win… big.

If you’re talented and have the aforementioned equivalent of the Powerball®, you can do things other people can’t do. You can write songs that make people re-think the world. You can sing songs other people not only wouldn’t think to sing, but might be afraid to sing. You can inspire people to sing your songs… even when they don’t always understand you. To me, Bob Dylan and his eponymous first album are a great example of a musical Powerball®.

Bob Dylan’s debut studio album, Bob Dylan, was released March 19, 1962. I didn’t use it for the anniversary this year – because I thought it would distract from this past Saturday’s sūtra study – but normally I use one of the playlists that I also use on Bob Dylan’s birthday (hint, hint). It’s a playlist that combines music from the original album, which only included two original Bob Dylan songs, with Bob Dylan songs covered and/or made famous by others. It’s good way, I think, to highlight the fact that Dylan is as inspired as he is inspirational.

Bob Dylan, the album, was actually recorded November 20th and 22nd of 1961, and only featured two original Dylan songs. The other eleven tracks were covers or traditional folk songs (including Negro spirituals). While Bob Dylan did arrange some of the folk songs, there’s one arrangement that he famously, uhmm… “borrowed” (without permission) from folk singer Dave Van Ronk. Exactly a month after recording the album, Bob Dylan had an informal recording session in a Minneapolis, Minnesota hotel room with Bonnie Beecher and Tony Glover. Those bootleg recordings may or may not have been distributed out of someone’s trunk, but they were the equivalent of modern-day artists streaming their music. They got people excited about Bob Dylan as a musician and may be considered a better glimpse (than the studio album) of what was to come from the artist.

The bootleg recordings did not, however, drum up enough attention to really sell Bob Dylan. The album has never been super popular (chart wise) in the US or the UK. Neither did it, initially, receive a lot of critical recognition or attention. However, some reviewers did compare Dylan – as well as his voice and his style – to Elvis Presley.

Which is weird to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Bob Dylan fan (on a lot of different levels). I even dig that first album. However, the comparison to Elvis is curious, when you really think about it. Because (to me) the only thing Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley had in common, especially when compared to other also talented musicians at the time, was that elusive Powerball® of talent, drive, and other people’s perceptions.

“How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone”

*

– quoted from the song “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

The playlist for Wednesday (March 16th) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Purim 2022”]

I plan to post the Bob Dylan playlist for Tuesday, May 24th.

*NOTE: Here’s a funny aside. In 2020, just as we started locking down for the pandemic, I blogged and posted a playlist about stories and music. That would have been Part I, except that it was for March 22nd – which means that if I ever get everything posted in sequential order it would be Part III (after the Purim or Saint Patrick’s Day post and the Bob Dylan post).

**NOTE: Since I don’t actually read the Purim text during the practice, I almost always leave out the part where Haman is begging for his life and the King misreads the situation. In some ways, it is an important part of the cause-and-effect of the narrative – and it definitely brings up another aspect of how our perceptions affect our stories – but it’s comes at the end so I often overlook it.

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Here’s something fun that’s on the YouTube playlist, but is not (yet) available on Spotify.

*

And, here’s an old favorite.

### Are You Lucky or Are You Blessed? ###