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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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We need to show how it’s awesome

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I hear the word “awesome” a lot these days, especially from my students. Yet I wonder if they truly mean it or use it in its full significance. What makes something full of awe for us? It can either be awe-full or awful, something worthy of wonderment or dread. Diametrically opposite meanings from the same word – it all depends on how we deploy it. Language is so expressive, yet often so misused.

I sound like an old fogey in this rant, yet it worries me this frequent overuse of awesome. I fear it signals the opposite of the plain meaning of the word. Rather than being awed, it betrays our inability to be impressed, or, more importantly, reverential. Overuse depreciates the events referred to. Calling everything awesome yields a world in which nothing is truly worthy of our amazement.

How can we educate a generation that watches so much TV and plays so many video games with sharp wizardry icons and impossibly glitzy technical interchanges to see the complex natural world around them, to be awed by it and to revel in its magnificence?

How can we show students the incredibly multifaceted story of history and expect them to get excited by revealing their own origins within these narratives?

How can we delve into social and cultural diversities and expose them to the wonder of human growth and their own potential?

These are the awesome wonders of life. But they find us all so boring. Students, children and even adults are too easily and often bored. They do not see the awe-inspiring events that surround us.

Life is often challenging, but is it boring? It shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t allow our children to think that way. That word should be banned.

In the group of prayers called Hallel, there is a section that speaks in part to these concerns. It frames the perspective of the awesome. “This is from God; it is wondrous in our eyes. This is the day God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” For the believer, the notion that the wondrous comes from the Divine Power enhances one’s sense of appreciation and endows the moment with greater gratitude, creating a need to celebrate, to express joy. In other words, a full sense of astonishment will involve joy. So if we develop appropriate use of the word awesome, if we frame it within contexts of applied great phenomenon, then there will emerge a sense of delight rather than this ennui that pervades our culture.

We are now in that time span between Purim and Passover, when Jewish history is full of remembrance and celebration. Challenging us to remember and forget, it’s anything but boring. Confusing maybe, overloaded for sure. Stimulating and perplexing, there’s so much here that we’re tempted to just let it go. But we do that at our own risk. There is a treasure trove of Jewish awesome data. The difficult part is to look it up and learn about it.

Yet how do we retell the story over and over again without being boring? How do we repeat the rituals again and again without tedium? That challenge is ours. The very nature of ritual is in the repetition of an act, and through that recurrence, we allow something new to occur. The familiar isn’t boring. It’s in this repetitious moment that we’re able to delve deeper into new meanings and find the truly awesome. Each telling unmasks new interpretations and applications.

But we need to study and prepare in order to be able to reveal and demonstrate the inspiring messages. Adults can’t avoid their role in this chapter of our history. In order to meet the demands of awesomeness, we all, parents and teachers, must investigate the potential of our heritage. There are wondrous things in this world. It’s up to us to constantly walk on that that path, renewing the narrative of awe to its most challenging pillar. At that point, we’ll be using our words carefully and correctly, remembering, celebrating and being inspired by and awed by the wondrous.

This world we live in is easily spoiled. With difficulty, it can be protected and enhanced. By our efforts, it can be made more awesome!

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