Where is God When We Need a Miracle?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the sovereignty of God lately. There’s always the classic question that if God is all-powerful and completely good, why does He allow pain and suffering in the world?

yom kippur katanMy traditional answer is that we live in a broken world. From a Christian point of view, the world is broken because of “original sin”. From that point on, not only was every single person born automatically with a “sin nature,” the natural tendency to do evil, but the world itself was flawed and out of synch with God’s original intent.

Further, people weren’t capable of fixing themselves, let alone Creation all by themselves. Only by coming to faith in Jesus could we as individuals be saved, and only by Christ’s second coming can the world be saved.

The Jewish point of view is a bit more nuanced, at least as I’m able to understand it. From that perspective, Adam and Havah (Eve) were created with a natural tendency to do good. They could still do evil if they chose (free will) but they naturally did good. When they chose to disobey God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge, their tendencies to do good and evil were balanced within them. In other words, it was just as likely for them to choose evil as to choose good (I’m sure I’m not getting this exactly right, and I expect helpful comments will be appearing by the by).

Jews also don’t believe they don’t need an intermediary to atone for them. In ancient days, when the Tabernacle, and then later the Temple stood, once a year on Yom Kippur, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer atonement for all Israel. There was also an offering for the atonement of the seventy nations (representing all humanity).

In modern Judaism, each individual provides for his own atonement by sincere teshuvah (repentance).

(You can read more about Judaism’s views on original sin at Jewish Virtual Library and Aish.com>)

Also, while the Messiah is expected to rise, redeem Israel, conquer all her enemies, and bring a time of peace and justice for the world, the concept of Tikkun Olam or “repairing the world,” states that each human being can repair just a small part of the world by doing good. Jews do this by performing the mitzvot (commandments), and Gentiles do this by also performing the mitzvot incumbent upon us (and we have a lot fewer commandments to perform compared to Israel).

But so what?

arguing with godGod is all-powerful and He is not bound by the laws of nature or subject to any limitations at all. If He so desired, couldn’t He fix everything right now?

I suppose He could.

We’re supposed to trust Him. We are supposed to bring all of our worries and woes to Him and accept the promise that He will take care of us.

But plenty of devout Christians and Jews die of cancer every day. Plenty of devout Christians and Jews have starved to death, have been persecuted, and you can’t tell me that of the six-million Jews who died in Hitler’s Holocaust, all of them were sinful and none of them were deeply devout and devoted to Hashem.

But if that’s true, how can we depend on God? Maybe He’ll arrange for someone’s cancer to go into remission and maybe He won’t. Maybe He’ll save our loved ones from suffering and death, and maybe He won’t. How can we know?

We can’t. That’s the faith part. And even when He doesn’t help, we are supposed to trust that whatever happens is for the best? It sure doesn’t feel like the best, does it?

On the other hand, maybe we’re missing the point.

Let’s take hunger and starvation as an example. According to Action Against Hunger, 1 in 8 people worldwide won’t get enough to eat today. The number of hungry people in the world exceeds the combined populations of the U.S., Canada, and the E.U. And about one million children will die this year from hunger-related causes.

Why does God allow this horrible suffering to go on, and on, and on?

If God didn’t create humanity as sentient, self-determining beings with free will, He probably wouldn’t. He probably wouldn’t have to. The world would most likely work the way He designed it to work.

But He did create us and we are here and we all make choices.

We could choose to make hungry and starving people a priority and help them, or we could choose to believe other things are more important.

Oh sure, most of us don’t have the skill sets to even attempt to cure cancer or establish world peace, and most of us as individuals can’t stop world-wide hunger, but each individual can choose to feed just one hungry person.

We can donate time, food, and money to our local food bank. We can give money to charities who send food to nations experiencing a famine, we can choose to do a lot of things to help those less advantaged than ourselves.

jewish charity
Photo: Reuters

We can choose to do good, and even doing a little bit of good makes the world a better place. I think God expects us to do that. I think that’s why God doesn’t just transform the world into a perfect place with a miracle.

We are supposed to be the miracle. We can’t save the world, but we can help fix a small piece of it. Imagine what the world would be like if we all fixed one small piece of the world. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better.

The Ger Toshav Certificate Within Messianic Jewish Community

I found something interesting, or rather, a link to something interesting, on a closed Facebook group for Messianic Gentiles: a Ger Toshav Certificate. It seems to be something a non-Jew would attest to and sign within the confines of a Jewish community in which he/she is participating. It refers to formalizing their relationship as Ger Toshav/Giyoret Toshevet, an “Affiliate of the Tribe.

gerI checked, and on the site’s About Us page, they state their site is housed at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, PA.

I know the Messianic Gentiles group where I found this, often uses the Ger Toshav model to define the relationship we Gentiles have (potentially) with the larger Messianic Jewish community (although there’s no one, clear definition of “Messianic Gentiles,” “Messianic Jews,” or how they’re supposed to deal with each other.

Someone else in the group posted a link to Shechinah.com and a rather lengthy commentary on the Ger Toshav.

I checked this too, and found the site owner is Rabbi Rayzel Raphael who, among other things, was ordained as a Rabbi within Reconstructionist Judaism, is a singer and songwriter, and has an affinity for pastel colors.

The information sources seem pretty liberal regarding Jewish/Gentile relationships, but I’m not sure that will work out well within the Messianic Jewish movement.

One of the apparent goals within some expressions of Messianic Judaism is to define it as primarily to exclusively Jewish, created for and administered by Jews living under Conservative or Orthodox praxis.

Since historically, the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements have been associated with Evangelical Christianity, it is seen as important not to give the appearance of Messianic Jews being just “Christians in Kippahs.”

Thus the goals of at least some Messianic Jewish groups, and probably a large number of Messianic Gentiles, are at odds with one another.

How can a Jewish community be said to be primarily or exclusively Jewish if it has a majority membership of Gentiles, and particularly if they are given official status within that community based on public declarations of participation, and perhaps even serving on their administrative board?

On the other hand, many, many Messianic Gentiles desperately seek to belong as equal members of Messianic congregations.

I used to be like that, but those ideas slowly began to unravel and ultimately, for many reasons, not the least of which is being married to a non-Yeshua believing Jewish wife, I ceased my personal association with both Messianic Jewish worship and attending a Christian church.

raphael
Rabbi Rayzel Raphel – Found on her twitter page.

It’s left me somewhat in limbo (you should pardon the expression), but for me, there doesn’t seem to be a viable option for community, barring this blogspot.

My question is, for those non-Jews who do want to belong and be recognized within Messianic Judaism, do these ideas culled from Reconstructionist Judaism make any sort of sense, or are they just wishful thinking?

I know non-Jews can participate widely within the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, but within their own religious branches, these Jews have nothing to prove.

Within Messianic Judaism, it’s quite the different story. Any hint of “Christianity” within their midst, and every other branch of Judaism, as well as secular Jews, would drop MJ Jews like a hot rock (or that’s the perception at least).

What about it? Are non-Jews doing the Messianic Jewish movement any favors by clamoring to be let in? Maybe we should be content to be accepted within whatever religious group that will have us and that we can tolerate, or even find a home in, and call it good.

Hurtado on the “Conversion” of Paul

The Jewish PaulI finally got around to reading Larry Hurtado’s blog post The “Conversion” of Paul and found it illuminating. Here are the two most telling paragraphs:

But it’s a genuine question among scholars whether Paul understood himself as having undergone a “conversion,” at least in the sense that the word typically has. He didn’t move from irreligion to a religious life, from being a sinful man to virtue. And he didn’t change his God, or denounce his ancestral religious tradition. Instead, he expresses the strong conviction that the God he had always sought to serve showed him his blindness in opposing the Jesus-movement, revealed (Paul’s word) Jesus’ high/unique status, and summoned Paul to a special mission that he believed would usher in (or at least promote markedly) the consummation of the divine plan of world-redemption.

So, some scholars prefer to characterize Paul’s shift in religious orientation as a prophet-like “calling” rather than a “conversion” (as influentially proposed by Krister Stendahl). Others, such as Alan Segal, contended that “conversion” was appropriate, as the term can include a change from one version of a religious tradition to another, such as a Roman Catholic becoming a Baptist. So, Segal urged, Paul shifted from one understanding of what his God required to another very different one, and from opposition to the Jesus-movement to aligning himself with it.

Anyone who has read this blogspot for very long knows I don’t consider Paul (or Rav Shaul if you prefer) a convert, but rather someone who received a “Prophet-like” calling (to use Hurtado’s phrase) to become Rav Yeshua’s (Jesus Christ’s) emissary to the Gentiles.

What’s really cool though, is Hurtado, a well-known and respected New Testament scholar, holds a view of Paul that you would hardly find preached in most normative Christian churches.

I still find it surprising that what the Church teaches (and I’m using the word “Church” in the broadest possible sense) is so at odds with the continuing research being done on the New Testament in general and on Paul specifically.

I suppose one explanation could be that, Christian (and Jewish) tradition about Paul being what it is, the average Christian sitting in the pew on Sunday wouldn’t tolerate a radical update to his/her doctrine. In order to make supersessionist/replacement theology work, Paul had to convert from the Judaism of his day to early Christianity. Most Jews and probably even some Christians believe that Paul even founded Christianity, converting it from a branch of ancient Judaism to a wholly Gentile religion.

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

Hurtado’s reply to one of his readers continues to establish his views on the Apostle, complete with Biblical citations:

Well, Michael, to go by his own testimony, Paul/Saul remained a devoted Jew, even in his ministry as “apostle to the nations” (e.g., Philip 3:4ff; 2 Cor 11:21ff.). But you put your finger on the historical phenomenon that I’ve worked on for over 30 yrs now, offering the best answers that I can find to the various component questions. Paul’s own statement (Gal 1:13ff) is that he shifted from opponent of the Jesus-movement to proponent when “God revealed his Son to me”. So, he accepted the exalted status of Jesus as thoroughly compatible with his commitment to the uniqueness of the God of Israel precisely because he was convinced (by a “revelation”) that this one God had himself exalted Jesus and now required him to be acknowledged and reverenced. In short, if God approved, who was he to withstand it?

In 2 Cor 3:7–4:6, Paul’s description of fellow members of Israel who don’t perceive/accept Jesus as “Lord” pictures them as having a veil over their minds. But “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16).

We have to form our notions of what “Jewish traditions and biblical monotheism” could include based on the evidence, not preconceptions. And, as I showed in my 1988 book, One God, One Lord (3rd ed., 2015), “ancient Jewish Monotheism” could accommodate some amazing things.

Moreover, Paul was and remained a Jew, and so even the remarkable view of Jesus that he accepted must be included as one of the developments initially within 2nd temple Jewish tradition.

Coffee and BibleI’m probably just recycling things I’ve written in the past, but frankly, I learn more about what the Bible is actually saying by studying scholarly works rather than listening to a Pastor’s sermon or going to Sunday School.

I wish I could make blogs like Hurtado’s  “required reading” for all churches everywhere, but, in my  opinion, many or most Christians don’t want to actually learn anything new. They are quite content to have their theology “settled”.

Politics, Religion, and Other Dirty Words You Shouldn’t Use in Public

danger
Image: Clipart Panda

Disclaimer: I want to state for the record that this blog post is about as politically incorrect as you can get, so if you’re easily offended, don’t read it. Remember, you have been warned.

Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne recently published an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled, “The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Is Dead.” They write that evangelicalism (or at least its reputation) is a “casualty” of the recent presidential election. They believe it is time to bury evangelicalism and replace it with a more authentic expression of Christian faith.

-Shayne Looper
“Red Letter Christianity” And The Bible
The Huffington Post

If the recent presidential election proves anything, it’s that we — as individuals, organizations and a country — need to evolve the tech industry’s approach to diversity and inclusion.

-Nichole Burton and Aubrey Blanche
Why white men are diversity’s missing stakeholders
TechCrunch.com

In the days that followed Donald Trump’s election victory, liberal assessments about what went wrong and prescriptions for how the Left can move forward were in short supply. There were, however, exceptions. Notable among those was Mark Lilla’s piece in the New York Times ten days after Hillary Clinton’s loss describing the need to bring about an end to the “age of identity liberalism.”

-Noah Rothman
The Left’s Toxic Identity Obsession
Commentary Magazine

As Donald Trump’s inauguration day rapidly approaches, the news media continues to scramble for some understanding of what went wrong, as in “How could Hillary Clinton have possibly lost to Donald Trump?” kind of wrong.

Their answer, and I’m grossly simplifying it here to make a point, is “White Men Bad!”

More specifically, the Huff Post article states in part:

Campolo and Claiborne regard the fact that 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Mr. Trump as evidence that evangelicalism has been poisoned by self-interest. Its reputation “has been clouded over.”

clinton voters
Image: Business Insider — AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Actually, I find the statement hilarious. Does Shayne Looper imagine for one split second that everyone who voted for Clinton wasn’t voting out of self-interest? Everyone voted for the candidate they thought would best represent their interests, or at least they voted for the candidate they found less objectionable (and some people  were so revolted by the both of them, they voted for neither).

But to that point, Looper goes on:

How, they wonder, could people who take Jesus seriously ever vote for a man whose campaign was marked by “racism, sexism, xenophobia,” and “hypocrisy”?

From Shayne’s point of view, the problem isn’t just white men, but white, male Evangelical Christians. I’m not a huge fan of Evangelical Christianity, in part because it really can be rigid about doctrine and the whole “God, guns, and guts” routine, but they’re Americans too, and they have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.

I do agree with Shayne that we have to take the Bible as a holistic, unified document rather than emphasize some areas (such as putting everything Jesus said in red letters) and de-emphasizing or completely disregarding others (and it should be said that Jesus was almost universally teaching Jews, not Gentile Christians…if Christians want to understand their own theology better, they need to read Paul).

The “solution,” from Looper’s point of view, is to replace Evangelical Christianity with a more universal form that presents as more compassionate, charitable, and inclusive (my words, not his).

This is somewhat different from the solution proposed by Nichole Burton and Aubrey Blanche at TechCrunch, who believe that instead of ejecting white men in favor of something different, they should be recruited as “allies”.

The Silicon Valley tech community is about as liberal and progressive as you can get, but they’re still struggling with their own “diversity crisis,” probably because like a number of other professions, it’s been historically dominated by white males.

According to Burton and Blanche:

In the election, the majority of white people voted for Trump, whose campaign was characterized by division rather than inclusion. And white men voted for the president-elect by at least a 10 percent margin over other groups.

blm protest
Image: ABC News

I also found this statement hilariously funny, not because it isn’t true, but because it describes the Obama Presidency to a “T”. Racial and ethnic relations have reached (or so it seems to me) an all-time low in the eight years since Barack and Michelle first walked into the White House.

But they go on:

White men (and other allies) must learn how to be inclusive and use their own privilege constructively. All of us are capable of prejudice and biased behavior, but changing it is more difficult the further a person is from being the subject of discrimination.

I have to be thankful that Burton and Blanche at least acknowledge that it’s possible for people besides white males to be “capable of prejudice and biased behavior,” but of course, it’s worse when whites do it.

They do want to extend a carrot instead of a stick by creating “safe spaces” for “unconverted” whites to hear minority points of view, and to use whites who are already allies to invite non-ally whites into the fold.

So the Huff Post writer wants to trash can Evangelical Christianity for a version that would be more likely to vote for Clinton, while the TechCrunch writers want to solve the same problem by recruiting conservative white males into progressivism as allies, people who also would be more likely to vote for Clinton.

However, according to Noah Rothman at Commentary, the left has a problem:

Notable among those was Mark Lilla’s piece in the New York Times ten days after Hillary Clinton’s loss describing the need to bring about an end to the “age of identity liberalism.” Lilla’s case in favor of a “pre-identity liberalism” is a convincing one, but he doesn’t propose a method to bring about a return to this providential status quo ante. There’s a reason for that: there isn’t one—at least, not an easy one. Political movements are not party committees. They don’t radically redefine their mission at the drop of a white paper. The modern activist left was reared on toxic identity politics, and it seems disinclined to abandon this addictive poison without a struggle.

women's march
Photo: Women’s March on Washington/Facebook

The idea here is that modern liberalism is hardly united. It’s been fractured into multiple units, some running in parallel to others while some are actually standing in opposition to particular liberal factions.

They have no central rallying point, and thus, no specific focus other than #NotMyPresident.

Rothman goes on:

Take, for example, the so-called “Women’s March” that will descend on Washington D.C. to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 21. The masses gathered in opposition to Trump will create the appearance of unity, but a closer examination of the coalition united by their antipathy for the incoming administration paints a portrait of a movement at war with itself.

The Women’s March will be short at least one formerly eager participant who told the New York Times she canceled her trip to Washington D.C. after reading a volunteer organizer’s Facebook post who “advised ‘white allies’ to listen more and talk less.” The Times noted that racial tensions within the organization extend to the organizational level. A Louisiana coordinator resigned her volunteer role due to a lack of diversity in leadership positions. The decision to change the name of a satellite march based in Nashville yielded to a caustic debate over whether the event had become hostile to white participants.

I read about this in another online venue, and basically what was being said was “white women aren’t victim enough”. I consider this yet another of President Obama’s legacies. Leftist progressives are inhibited from uniting by identity politics. How are they going to accomplish anything if they can’t unify, even over how much they hate Donald Trump?

Google “Democratic party crisis” and the search results will produce quite a number of articles, usually published sometime last November, including this one from Fox News.

They’ve probably recovered from the shock of Clinton losing the election by now, but they’ve got an uphill battle in dealing with a Trump Presidency and a Republican majority in the House and the Senate.

So what does that mean for the rest of us?

white males
Image: imgur

If Hillary Clinton had won, then white males who were not self-avowed “allies” would have continued to be relentlessly attacked by the majority liberal left, basically with us being called racist simply because we were born white and male (and we received further demerits if we happened to be Christians or religious Jews). The majority social and political power in the United States would have kept on flattening us with their juggernaut steamroller just as they have for the past eight years.

As the character Howard Beale (Peter Finch) ranted in the film Network (1976) “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

And that’s the real reason Donald Trump won the Presidency. The marginalized rose up against the monolithic system and gave it a taste of its own medicine.

They sure don’t like that taste, not at all.

The result is that in a week, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States.

I wish that actually meant good things, but every time I hear the man speak, I’m astonished that he managed to build an empire worth billions. At least Clinton could (most of the time) fake being a sane and reasonable human being.

What it really means for us is that instead of a steamroller continuing to mash us flat, the left will either play the victim card hoping we’ll feel guilty enough to succumb to being their allies, or that they’ll put on sheep’s clothing and pretend they don’t think that all white males are “deplorables,” as Clinton declared us, hoping we can be convinced to turn over our free will and self-determination to the collective.

I know all this sounds cynical, and it probably is. Trump isn’t going to help, and in fact, every time he opens his mouth or puts out a tweet, he just pours more gasoline over the inferno.

Because Donald Trump won and Hillary Clinton lost, and because Donald Trump is such as big, white, rich, narcissistic, loudmouth, all white males, and especially conservative and religious white males (along with conservative, religious white woman) will be painted with the same broad brush, and one strategy or another will be employed to either turn us to the “light side of the Force” (in their eyes, not mine) or they will attempt to maintain a “Rebel alliance” which will limp along for the next four years due to factionalized identity politics.

trump
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier/Newsday.com

Bottom line is no one is going to have a good time. We’ll all suffer, not only because Trump is a total loose cannon, but the only solution the left has to fix its problem and the problem of white men, is to reframe capitulation  as cooperation. They will continue to try to remake us into their drones, and failing that,  “demonize” us as the enemy to resist.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day or, continuing my Star Wars references, “Help us Yeshua HaMoshiach, you’re our only hope.”

Have We Lost The Next Generation?

I just read (skimmed really) an article published online by Charisma Magazine called Year in Review: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel. Among other things, the article defines three different types of Christians. I’m listing them below because they’ll factor into my essay by the by:

  1. Couch-potato Christians: These Christians adapt to the culture by staying silent on the tough culture-and-faith discussions. Typically this group will downplay God’s absolute truths by promoting the illusion that neutrality was Jesus’ preferred method of evangelism.
  2. Cafeteria-style Christians: This group picks and chooses which Scripture passages to live by, opting for the ones that best seem to jive with culture. Typically they focus solely on the “nice” parts of the gospel while simultaneously and intentionally minimizing sin, hell, repentance and transformation.
  3. Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.
culture wars
Image: © Istockphoto/Thomas_EyeDesign – found at Charisma Magazine

While the author is focused on this crisis in Evangelicalism, it’s not unique to Christianity. One of the long-standing issues in Judaism is assimilation of Jews to either secular culture or conversion to Christianity.

Last May, Arutz Sheva published Assimilation, the Jewish people’s worst nightmare outlining this, although a little over two years ago, Tablet Magazine posted an article called Why the Myth of Vanishing American Jewry is so Hard to Dispel.

All of these essays are very long and I’ll admit in not reading the entire content of each one.

In general though, the blame for Christians leaving the church or creating churches that are largely secular in their values, as well as for Jews assimilating and either identifying as cultural (but not religious) Jews or at least joining liberal Reform synagogues, is laid squarely at the feet of popular, secular culture, and by that I mean progressive liberalism.

I recently reviewed a book written by the late Andrew Breitbart titled Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World. It was written during the Obama administration and covered how the news media, entertainment industry, and university system have all been co-opted by socialism and liberalism so that they have almost overwhelming control of the national “message” being transmitted today.

But while Breitbart was addressing how Tea Party conservatives could fight back and send a message of their own, I can see parallels between his points and how religious structures in our country, really in western culture, are being impacted in the same way.

The question is, assuming all this is correct, how can Jews and Christians (and I’m including Messianics in this mix) successfully communicate their/our values to the next generation and make it stick?

chanukah
Chanukah 2016

As I wrote in my previous blog post, I haven’t been particularly successful in that arena.

Of course this comes to mind:

Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NASB)

That sounds nice in theory, but is it really successful?

You aren’t her parents anymore, her parents are Axl Rose and Madonna, you can’t compete with that kind of constant bombardment.

-Albert Gibson (played by Tom Arnold)
from the film True Lies (1994)

As our culture increasingly diverges from the values taught in Christianity and Judaism, it sends a powerful message to everyone, including younger people who want to be relevant and not perceived as an enemy or bigot by their larger peer group.

And our modern culture has a much larger and louder public relations department than the family our religious instructors.

So is it hopeless?

I hope not. On the other hand, you’d just about have to keep kids locked in a closet and never let them on the internet, watch TV, listen to the radio, go out to watch movies, or go anywhere and associate with anyone except like-minded religious people.

Only the most conservative and reclusive groups do that kind of thing. In fact, I’ve encountered some progressives that think raising Jewish children as Orthodox and controlling their hair styles, clothing, and educational environment is a form of child abuse (although for some strange reason, they don’t have the same problems with Muslims).

Not only does secularism teach values different from the Church and Synagogue, but they teach that Christian and Jewish values (conservative or traditional ones) are bad, wrong, homophobic, islamophobic, racist, sexist, patriarchal, misogynistic, and so on.

judeo-christianNo one wants to be thought of as a bigot, but the message being transmitted is that religious thought and observance is all of those things, and the only way to not be a bigot is to stop being religious (or create a religion that embraces secular progressive values).

I’m sure there are young Christian and Jewish people out there who have adhered to their religious values to one degree or another, but it certainly seems as if we’re trying to repair a ripped artery with chewing gum and scotch tape.

I know there are plenty of pundits who have written about the “culture wars” and what to do about it, but I’m not so sure how successful their solutions are (if they have any).

One problem that I don’t think is being addressed was raised by the Charisma Mag author:

Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.

The problem is whether their values are truly based in the Bible, or based rather upon conservative Christian interpretation and tradition?

I came across the notion of “teaching correct doctrine” in my previous sojourn in church. I left over two years ago, but my experiences are still vivid in my memory.

christians vs gaysThe problem might not always be religious vs. secular values, but how religious values are defined and understood.

Messianics, by definition, have come to the conclusion that normative Christianity does not have an entirely correct understanding of the Bible, especially when it comes to the Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people.

In fact, at least in my own experience, the Church has been wrong about so many things, that I’ve re-examined at large number of topics, including Christianity’s and Judaism’s stand on Gays in the church as well as in the Synagogue.

I came up with an answer that is a lot more nuanced than “Homosexuality is an abomination,” but still determined that Same-sex sex and marriage is not presupposed anywhere in the Bible.

But I looked, I didn’t just assume.

That might be a big problem younger people are having with religion. Conservative Christians and Jews rely on what they were taught and the explanations they were provided without engaging in an honest investigation into those beliefs.

Instead of just telling some young person “Homosexuality is a sin” or “Eve made Adam sin with the apple,” maybe engaging them and taking them through an investigation as to why these values are adhered to. Further, if a traditional value is discovered to be false (“the Church replaced the Jews in all God’s covenant promises”), adjust or eliminate the value.

While some churches have done this relative to Israel and the Covenants, other Christians have found it necessary to leave the Church and to either join Messianic congregations or, lacking access, finding online venues to nurture their beliefs and values.

But conducting an extensive investigation of scripture to define religious values takes time, effort, and resources, plus the willingness to question your own traditions. Christianity and Judaism might not be willing to do that, since tradition has a tendency to take on a life of its own.

father and sonOne final point, and this has been said before, is that parents and religious teachers must walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Most younger people will learn more about your values by watching you live them out (or your failure to do so) than anything you’ll ever tell them.

That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but you do have to be consistent. If cultural values lure you in at one level or another, you will probably lose the war for the next generation.

I wonder if we already have?

Of Grandchildren, Chanukah, and Christmas

As I’m sure many of you know, I haven’t been contributing to this blog spot lately. It’s not so much because I don’t have the time, but rather because some of the “fire” or inspiration for doing so has cooled off.

I have no local community of faith and no longer have a steady stream of information coming in regarding the Messianic perspective on the Bible, the Messiah, and faith to employ as a muse.

chanukah
Chanukah 2016

I had been considering writing something about Christmas and Chanukah (besides my little science fiction Chanukah story) and dreading it at the same time since, after all, it is somewhat expected, but then these issues collided with my regularly scheduled life.

A few things.

My son David is divorced with two children, my seven-year-old grandson and my almost eighteen-month-old granddaughter.

David is currently living with us to save up some dough, and his arrangement with his ex is that he gets the kids for one week and she gets them for the next.

That’s under normal circumstances.

Because she celebrates Christmas and we don’t, we’ve had them for the past week-and-a-half, and she’ll get them starting late Friday or early Saturday, and keep them for the next two weeks.

Since Christmas and the start of Chanukah both begin on December 24th this year, the grandkids will get Christmas but miss Chanukah.

My granddaughter wouldn’t care, but my grandson loves Chanukah. With this in mind, my family decided to celebrate Chanukah a week early this year so, for us, the fourth night of Chanukah begins at sundown tonight.

Another little factoid. David is dating (I personally think it’s on the rebound, but he says “no” and what do I know anyway?) and she celebrates Christmas, too.

star christmasSo last Sunday evening after my grandson lit the candles and my wife coached him through reciting the blessings, my son and his girlfriend produced a bunch of Christmas presents and gave them to my grandchildren.

I had no idea this was going to happen, and I found myself surprised, shocked, and more than a little dismayed.

I usually silently endure the Christmas season and am grateful when January rolls around so traffic goes back to normal and I don’t have to listen to Christmas music anymore. It’s not like I’ve got a case of “paganoia” about the holiday, I just find it overly commercialized and tedious.

But it invaded my home and without even the slightest warning.

At least no one dragged a Christmas tree into the house.

Which brings me to what really inspired today’s missive. Jewish actress Natalie Portman has a Christmas Tree.

This story was published as Jewish educational site Aish.com to illustrate the potential danger of Jewish assimilation into wider secular culture (or worse, directly into normative Goyishe Christianity).

They also published a parallel article, When Christmas Meets Hanukkah touting the same message.

Is it okay to mix Christmas and Chanukah together? Can you have a Chanukah menorah in your home alongside a Christmas tree? Is this acceptable intermarriage holiday practice?

Experts and authors such as Susan Katz Miller would probably say “yes,” but I’m not so sure.

It’s a foregone conclusion that my non-Jewish grandchildren will be raised with Christmas and Easter and all of that, but thanks to their Bubbe, they’ll also experience at least Chanukah and Passover and occasionally a smidgen of Sukkot.

natalie portman christmas tree
Natalie Portman, Image: Aish.com

My wife isn’t particularly observant (I wish she were more observant) and my son even less (non-existent). If he wasn’t living with us, he probably wouldn’t light the candles, and in spite of the fact that he complained about his ex-wife celebrating Christmas when he was married, he seems perfectly fine with giving his children Christmas presents for the sake of his new girlfriend.

If my family hadn’t been such a mixed bag of evolving religious practice when my own children were growing up, and if we had specifically raised them Jewish, maybe some of it would have stuck. I’d like to think so, even though there’s a crisis of assimilation into secularism attacking the upcoming Jewish generation.

All three of my kids identify as Jewish ethnically, but that’s about where it ends. I really don’t think mixing and matching is such a great idea in families (and if my son marries yet another non-Jewish wife and has more kids, it’ll just get worse). Granted, Natalie Portman can make whatever decisions she wants for her family, but if I had it to do over again, when my sons were born thirty years ago, I would have pushed my wife to join a local synagogue and start her (and my family’s) Jewish education right then and there.

That would have changed a whole lot though, so I’m conflicted. At that time, neither of us were religious, and as her non-Jewish spouse, if I had started attending shul with her and the kids, and if I had become entrenched in that lifestyle by the time we initially encountered Christianity some seven or so years later, I might not have become a believer, and then transitioned into a Judaically aware perspective thanks to first Hebrew Roots and then later Messianic Judaism.

How could I do that, and yet, for the sake of my Jewish children, how could I not?

Each of my three adult children will have to make their own path if they want to recapture what it is to be a Jew. I’ll help if they ask, but otherwise it’s totally up to them. It’s totally up to my long-suffering wife if she wants to become more observant (and she’s the product of an intermarriage as well). I’ve told her more than once that I’ll accept whatever decision she makes in that direction.

assimilationI have almost no control at all of what happens to my grandchildren. They’re not Jewish but I have this secret hope that they’ll become curious one day and want to investigate that part of their heritage (they could always convert).

The world is bleeding out Jews thanks to the hemorrhage of intermarriage and secular assimilation (except for the Orthodox, or so I’ve been told). I can’t fix it in my family, and can only watch and shake my head when I see my grandchildren rip into Christmas wrapping as the Chanukah lights burn just a few feet away.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day to return the Jewish people not only to Israel but to themselves.

"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman