The Consequences of Trinity Sunday

ChurchI had no idea there was such a thing as Trinity Sunday until I was sitting in a little, local Lutheran church with my Mom last Sunday and the Pastor was preaching on it. I guess it’s a “thing,” just like Reformation Day, which I’d never heard of either until several years ago. Seriously, I know more about the Jewish religious calendar than the Christian version.

I checked this with my friend Tom earlier today, who had never heard of it either, and he’s been a Christian a lot longer than I have.

Anyway, part of the service included the congregation reciting the Athanasian Creed, which is Christianity’s formal codification of the doctrine of the Trinity, and this supposedly can be traced back to the 6th century CE.

However, the Pastor actually preached about the Nicene Creed, including presenting a pretty sanitized version of the Emperor Constantine.

Apparently, it all began with a 4th century CE presbyter and ascetic (and also a heretic according to Pastor) named Arius, who taught that God the Father was superior to the Son, and that Jesus was a created being like the angels. There’s a Biblical basis for this found in Proverbs 8, but I won’t get into the details.

Apparently, in the first few centuries of the (Gentile) Christian church, there was a lot of disagreement over the nature and character of God and the relationship of God the Father to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know):

Arius is notable primarily because of his role in the Arian controversy, a great fourth-century theological conflict that led to the calling of the first ecumenical council of the Church. This controversy centered upon the nature of the Son of God, and his precise relationship to God the Father. Before the council of Nicaea, the Christian world knew several competing Christological ideas. Church authorities condemned some of these ideas but did not put forth a uniform formula. The Nicaean formula was a rapidly concluded solution to the general Christological debate.

Long story short, Constantine got all the Bishops together (I am severely oversimplifying all of this) to hammer out these issues, and they eventually concluded with the Trinity as we have the doctrine today.

I’m probably going to make a lot of people mad at me, but it seems that between Biblical canon and the present day Church, a bunch of religious authorities got together and decided the exact nature and character of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, the so-called Church Fathers got a few things wrong, in my humble opinion, such as supersessionism or replacement theology. I mean if they could reinvent the nature of Gentile faith in the Jewish Messiah King to eliminate the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, why should I believe they didn’t get the Trinity wrong, too?

See? I told you I’d make people mad. But it gets worse.

Why is the codification of the Trinity any different than the Jewish codification of halakah in Talmud? Okay, I probably just got myself in trouble on a number of levels, but please, give me enough rope to hang myself with. Christianity likes to think of itself as relatively tradition free compared to Judaism, but it seems to me that there are some similarities, at least in terms of process.

You have ancient Christian counsels that got together and defined all kinds of things about Christian belief and praxis, and you have ancient Jewish authorities that got together and (more or less) did the same thing about Jewish belief and praxis. Christians say they are “Bible-believing” and are led to interpret scripture by the Holy Spirit (also “scripture interprets scripture”), but really, what Christians believe and do today, especially relative to the Trinity doctrine, was decided centuries after the last book of the Bible was added, and more centuries after the Gentile Church divorced itself from the original Judaism.

In other words, it may well be that the Apostle Paul had no idea that Jesus was supposed to be the second person of the Godhead.

I know the Pastor of the church I take Mom to every Sunday would call me a heretic too, most Christians would, but how sure are we that we have a Triune God? Just asking.

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Ascension: The 40th Day of the Omer

shavuotLast week when I took my Mom to church, the Pastor preached on the Ascension of Christ, which occurred 40 days after he rose. He surprised me by bringing in a copy of the Tanakh and describing, in elementary terms, the Torah, Nevim, and Ketuvim. He said he didn’t expect anyone in his audience to understand those terms, but then again, he didn’t anticipate me.

His sermon got me to thinking about the Counting of the Omer, and since we are in the days of Shavuot, which concludes the 50 days of the counting, I started to wonder if there was some significance in Judaism to the 40th day of that counting.

A quick Google search didn’t reveal anything very significant. Lag B’Omer occurs on the 33rd day, so no help there. While we understand, from a Messianic point of view, that Shavuot or Pentecost was the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (see Acts 2), what, if anything, is significant about the 40th day of the Omer? Everything else in the Bible is so ordered, so I can’t believe the timing of the Ascension was random.

Okay, my search wasn’t completely futile, but it wasn’t conclusive either. Consider:

Velveteen Rabbi

Chabad

Messianic Sabbath

The first two seem to be merely daily commentaries, but the last entry said something interesting, though I don’t know how valid the information happens to be:

Since Yeshua rose from the dead on the Feast of First Fruits (Matt. 28:1-10), and ascended into heaven 40 days later (Acts 1:1-3), all of Yeshua’s post-resurrection appearances fall within the first 40 days of the Omer Count.

And

As I thought about the theme of each of these 40-day (or 40-year) events, I found three commonalities that all of them share:

  1. They were times of preparation for those doing God’s work
  2. During this timeframe the harvest was prepared – those who would receive God’s message
  3. God’s power came forth in full strength after the 40 days

Is that the answer? Was it just another part of the 40 day pattern we often find in the Bible? It makes sense if it is, but is there any more?

I don’t know. Throwing it out to you for commentary.

One More Time Back at Church

ChurchI’m sure my regular readers have noticed that I rarely post missives here anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the feeling that I’ve said just about everything I have to say about faith, God, and a non-Jew’s bent toward Jewish learning and worship.

However, changes and challenges continue to come my way. My Dad passed away over two years ago, and even then, my Mom’s memory was beginning to fail. Today, her dementia is quite pronounced and for over a year and a half, she’s been living in an independent residential facility, which has worked out well for her.

However, she was in Southwestern Utah, where she and Dad had decided to retire many years ago, while I live in Idaho and my brother lives in Virginia. It was a nine hour drive one way just for my wife and me to visit her.

Mom’s support continued to dwindle as her peers either moved away or passed away, and especially without Dad, she became very lonely. I finally convinced her to move to Boise so we could be near her and she could see us as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My wife and I researched support systems here and found a very nice independent living home just 15 minutes away from where we live.

With her memory and judgment continuing to deteriorate, she’s had a tough time adjusting, but then, it’s only been about two weeks since she’s arrived. There have been a number of hurtles to cross and we’re managing them as best we can.

One of the commitments I made to Mom was that I would find a Lutheran church for her and go with her to services every Sunday. I haven’t regularly attended church services in almost five years, ever since this happened. I never saw myself worshiping with traditional Christians ever again, but now, I go with Mom.

I took her for the first time last Sunday. She seemed to enjoy it, although she said the sermon was a bit long (I actually enjoyed it for the most part, though mentally, I was making little notes about how it could have been better). She even took communion (I called the church ahead of time and they said it was okay).

I’m taking her again this morning, hence my blog post.

It’s a nice place, relatively small and informal. The pastor and the church have a child-focused ministry, particularly regarding chronically ill children and those in the child welfare system. Not too many older folks at the later service, and when I did my research, I found they don’t have anything senior focused including any outreach.

At Mom’s church in Utah, when Dad was alive, they were very involved, had tons of friends, and participated in a lot of activities. Just before we moved Mom up here, she knew the Pastor and had one of Dad’s old friends give her rides to and from Sunday services, but that was about it (and the so-called “friend” of Dad’s turned out to be a bit of a snake, but that’s another story).

At her current residential home, there are plenty of activities, and thus opportunities for Mom to socialize as long as she takes advantage of them, but if we just go for Sunday services, we’ll arrive, worship, and then leave. No socializing, and Mom really needs to connect with folks.

I’ve thought about taking her to Sunday school before services, but between her dementia and macular degeneration in one eye, she neither reads well nor is able to retain what she reads for more than a minute or so. She wouldn’t even be able to follow along with a Bible study since, in any given conversation, I usually have to answer the same question five or six times or more since she forgets that she’s asked and that I’ve responded.

I know one of the reasons Mom likes the idea of me taking her to church is that it gets me into a church. However, in spite of her intentions, I’m going this time around only for her sake, which means, even if I were to go to a class with her, I’d be keeping my big mouth shut, something I didn’t do the last time I was “churched.”

I don’t know how this is going to work out in the long run, but as long as Mom wants to go to church on Sunday’s, I’ll take her.

I’ve looked at the church’s events calendar online, but besides a Quilter’s Group, there isn’t much for women, plus Mom doesn’t quilt. There’s actually more activities for men and a bunch for kids, but nowhere to plug Mom in.

I’m writing this to “think out loud,” so to speak. Beyond that, I don’t have much of a point.

I sometimes find it amazing and daunting that I’m actually attending services again, but it’s only to serve Mom.

Well, maybe I’ll take a few notes during the sermon just to see what turns up.

Faithfulness in the Next Generation

Judaism and ChristianityDisclaimer: The following is nowhere near a comprehensive inventory, but it’s a place to start.

I came across an article at Aish.com called Too Many Young Jews Think Judaism is Irrelevant written by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff and began to ponder. First though, a relevant portion from Ms. Jungreis-Wolff’s essay:

Concluding a talk on Jewish pride, I offered to take questions. A hand shot up in the front.

“You speak about our heritage and what it means to be a Jew. So many around us are clueless when it comes to Judaism. How can we share with others and teach more?”

Another hand shot up in the back. The young boy stood up and said loudly, “To speak up and think that you have what to teach the world about your Judaism means that you think you are better. That’s racist!”

In any high school in America I suspect, if the topic were “Black Pride” or “Gay Pride” or “Feminist Pride” or even “Muslim Pride,” the speaker would be welcomed by the students with enthusiasm and high praise. The audience would have left the presentation fired up for social justice and the desire to support the underrepresented by protesting and convincing their parents to give to worthy charities and political action groups.

Just about the only subject that would receive a worst reception would be a talk on “White Pride,” which probably would be racist. So is “Jewish Pride” racist?

Probably not, and I don’t think it’s really possible that “Jewish Pride” to be racist. You have people from Sweden and Ethiopia who are equally Jewish, so how can it be racist to be a Jew? Judaism is something that transcends race as it does religion. It’s a deeply uniquely-lived experience and identity (and I only know this second-hand from being married to a Jew).

What does this mean for Messianic Judaism and that generation being raised by members of the movement (or whatever you want to call MJ)?

I know that both Judaism and Christianity have programs in their houses of worship and communities aimed at fostering the faith in their children.

However, sources such as Cold Case Christianity, Christianity Today, and ChurchLeaders.com confirm the trend that a large population of teens and young adults are leaving the church for a variety of reasons, “relevancy” being key among them, even though there are numerous programs designed to speak to their youth population.

A similar tale is told of young Jews and Judaism by NYC Religions and the Pew Research Center, although an added factor is that some Jews who have left religious Judaism converted to Christianity (which the church would see as good, while Judaism and even Messianic Judaism would definitely have concerns).

Messianic Judaism, however you conceive of it, has, in my opinion (though I could be wrong since I haven’t been part of a religious community in years) an even bigger problem. Based on my experiences, kids in that movement also tend to leave, either for secularism, more traditional Christianity or more traditional Judaism. Add to that the size and relative rarity of MJ communities in any part of the US and Canada. A family may adhere to an MJ view of the Bible, but the nearest congregation could be hundreds of miles away, so when kids grow up and leave home, they very well will leave their faith behind, too.

The only group I know of attempting to slow or halt the trend is First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) which produces products such as Children’s Torah Club and other resources. Also, apparently, their 2016 Shavuot conference was on the topic of youth outreach. Of course, I have no way to gauge the effectiveness of those methods or even to know the population size of MJ in general or by age group, but at least somebody is doing something.

However, based on the other information I’ve cited, it seems like secularization has firmly taken hold of youth, both inside the body of faith and beyond. In modern, western society it seems, Christianity and Judaism are blamed for a variety of ills, and it’s not just the faithful who are under assault.  Although many deny it, an attack on national Israel is an attack on the Jewish people because it denies the Jews the right to their own sovereign nation. We even have a few freshman U.S. Representatives who have been making headlines lately because of that, questioning the existence of our nation’s closest ally in the Middle East.

I’ve also noted a lot of push back against the landmark and popular (in spite of its topic) film Unplanned starring Ashley Bratcher, including the movie’s twitter account mysteriously losing thousands of followers (though this seems to have stopped after many complains were registered). Additionally, actress Alyssa Milano has been leading Hollywood’s charge against Georgia’s recent “heartbeat” pro-life law, though Bratcher has responded to Milano’s boycott.

Wait! What’s abortion got to do with young people leaving the church and the synagogue?

It’s one of the values of secularization, and perhaps one of the most important ones, a sort of “Holy Grail” of the secular. Any potential threat against free access to abortions, in some cases up until birth, is thought of as a heinous affront and must be combated with every resources available especially by the Hollywood public opinion machine.

So many of our young people take this “right” for granted. If Christianity and Judaism threatens this and many other “rights” by touting how human life is sacred, then young people in houses of faith are more likely to struggle with choosing between the “relevancy” of their faith vs. the “relevancy” of secular cultural norms, and thus is the problem.

Racism, climate change denial, anti-choice, the list of pejoratives goes on and vulnerable young people, many of them it seems, don’t want to be associated with those highly emotionally charged labels. So what secular post-modern civilization considers “relevant” makes many of the values of Christianity and Judaism “irrelevant.” The exodus of young people from the faith continues.

What to do? Besides what’s been suggested at the various links I’ve posted, I don’t know.

I have three adult children who were young at the time when my family was transitioning through Christianity, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Judaism (and in my wife’s case, out the other side to more traditional Judaism), and I think they became so confused that eventually, they departed from all of it. Ethnically, they all identify as Jews, but that’s about it. I’m pretty sure one, maybe two keep a sort of Leviticus 11 “kosher,” but I was at the third’s house yesterday, and he was cooking up bacon for his kids for dinner.

I’ve heard of this “culture war” for decades and didn’t think too much about it, but now it seems that I was wrong. This “war” is real and it’s taking our children and grandchildren from us.

The fastest growing form of religious Judaism is Orthodox, though the category “other” is outstripping them hand over fist. According to the Christian Broadcast Network:

While Congress has yet to decide the future of the country’s illegal immigrants, some say they are critical to the survival of Christianity in America.

“Every denomination is experiencing explosive growth within the Latino church and the immigrant church at large. It’s been this way now for several decades,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told CBN News. “This is a perpetual revival, if you will, and it’s not going to cease and it’s growing and we thank God for it.”

Rodriguez says Americans can fulfill the great commission by ministering to their immigrant neighbors next door.

Maybe the key to understanding how to preserve and grow future generations in Messianic Judaism is to understand what dynamics drive the two groups I’ve listed above.

The Myth Of The Myth Of Religion: A Fisking

I tend not to engage atheists when they want me to give them a logical argument for why the God of the Bible exists, because, in most cases, it’s a ploy to discredit people of faith. However, I found Huggins’ discussion worth sharing, so here it is.

G. Scott Huggins

There are many good and intelligent atheists, among whom I count many friends. Some have attacked my religion with skillful arguments. This is not one of them. Rules for the fisking: Just to switch it up (and because I forgot my own conventions) the fisked article is in bold, and my responses are in italics.

There are at least 4,200 religions in the world today, and countless more have been lost to history.

Yeah, especially since to get that count you have to count every single different denomination of, e.g. Christianity as a “different religion,” even though the vast majority of their adherents would consider the vast majority of them to be variants of the same religion. I’m going to guess that’s true for a lot of the non-Christian religions as well, because you’ve already demonstrated that neither intellectual rigor nor honesty are features of your position. Most…

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What Can We Learn From Jussie Smollett?

smollett
Mug shot taken of Jussie Smollett at his arrest by Chicago P.D. – found at abc7chicago.com

I’m sure most of you have heard by now that actor and musician Jussie Smollet (born “Justin Smollett”) allegedly faked an attack upon himself on January 29, 2019, stating that he was assaulted by two white men who put a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and called him racist and homophobic slurs while also saying, “This is MAGA country.” Smollett is African-American and gay. He also allegedly received a threatening letter a week earlier containing a mysterious white powder which turned out to be Tylenol.

Chicago P.D. investigated and have concluded that the attack did not occur as Smollett stated, and have subsequently arrested him on felony charges. Although Smollett’s attorneys deny the allegations against their client, he has also been written out of the rest of the season of the television show Empire. The latest “revelation” regarding this young man is that he now states he has a drug problem.

While all this is getting a lot of attention in social media, not everyone is condemning him, at least publicly. Some politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi and Cory Booker, have deleted their initial “tweets” on twitter that showed support for Smollett, however U.S. Representative Maxine Waters continues to believe him. Also, African-American author and screenwriter Steven Barnes, while not defending Smollett’s alleged crime outright, does say that faking the attack does not make him a racist (and who said it did?).

Now, although Smollett has gotten a severe “dressing down” from both African-American Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and African-American Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. (I’m pointing out that both men are black so readers don’t believe their comments are based on racism), as Judge Lyke stated, before the law, Smollett is presumed innocent until the state proves its case against him (assuming they can).

However a blog, as well as social and news media, are not courts of law, so we can afford to make some assumptions. Let’s assume that all of the allegations against Smollett are true and that he not only mailed a threatening letter to himself (which may constitute mail fraud, a Federal offense), but hired two men he’s worked with on “Empire” to fake the attack. What can we say about this?

It seems like this 36-year-old man needs a lot of attention, and playing the role of a victim, both because he’s gay and black, would certainly qualify as attention. Having his “assailants” pretend to be white Trump supporters would likely result in immediate condemnation on Trump in particular (for inspiring hate) and white conservatives in general, both being pretty easy targets in the aforementioned social and news media. In other words, on the surface of it, the attack would seem credible to a lot of people.

But that’s not enough. Before Chicago P.D. formally charged Smollett, he described himself during the attack as a gay Tupac, meaning that he was tough and fought back (although the real life boxer Tupac Shakur, who was murdered in 1996 at the age of 25, had his own legal problems). Smollett apparently was attempting to dispel the traditional stereotype that gay men are effeminate and would be helpless in a physical fight (which is ridiculous because I’ve known gay men who have served in the Marine Corps and they are tough).

Smollett is alleged to have staged the attack, in part, because he was dissatisfied with the amount of money he was earning on “Empire” which was supposedly about $125,000 per episode. With 18 episodes per season, that comes out to over two million dollars a year. Of course, there are television actors who earn more, such as the cast of “Big Bang Theory” who are said to each pull down $900,000 per episode. Nice work if you can get it.

If you put everything together, you can make a case for Smollett being a talented but highly insecure individual who needed a lot more recognition than he was getting, and yes, money is definitely a form of recognition. Sympathy and admiration are other forms, which would play to his being a victim and valiantly fighting back against his two, supposedly MAGA loving white racist attackers.

Let’s face it, most of us feel insecure at times and probably want more attention than we’re getting, but most of us don’t go to such lengths to get that attention. Add Smollett’s own admission that he has a drug problem, and you have some significant psychopathology going on, which I bet this young man’s attorneys are going to significantly exploit in court.

But it doesn’t matter. Smollett’s already destroyed his life, at least for the next several years. However, consider actor Robert Downey Jr‘s own drug-related career damage. After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapse, he finally got this act together and now he’s one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood. I suppose that could happen to Smollett, too, but he could also pull a Lindsay Lohan. Or not, since I just read that her career is also slowly getting back on track. Who’d have thought?

However, he’ll have to go through a lot of hurdles first, not the least of which are the consequences of being convicted if it goes that way.

But he’s not the only one who will experience consequences.

Smollett’s ploy isn’t unique. According to USA Today, it’s actually pretty common, and as a result, each false allegation causes further damage to race relations, and in this case, will again make it more difficult for real victims of racism and prejudice against the LGBTQ community to be believed. Now each and every actual victim of a hate crime gets to “thank” Smollett and the many others who put their own issues ahead of everything else. Now, with each difficulty in being believed, in having their allegations be considered valid, at feeling like they’re not being taken seriously, these people can turn to Smollett and realize that he made it harder for them.

And as Catholic teenager Nick Sandmann found out, this also makes it more likely that anyone wearing a MAGA hat for any reason will be considered a violent racist.

Why am I writing this here on my religious blog? Because we’re supposed to be people of good conscience. We’re supposed to provide charity to the widow and the orphan, which is Biblical shorthand for the disadvantaged. I’ve been burned before giving charity to someone who had duped me, and I didn’t just waste my own money doing it. How do incidents like the one Smollett allegedly perpetrated affect our own willingness to believe the victim, offer help, give to the needy? After all, we’re people just like anyone else, and I don’t doubt that there are plenty of Christians right now who are raking Smollett over the virtual coals in social media, in their families, and in their churches.

Is that right?

The court will judge Smollett on legal matters, and like everyone else, God will judge him on how he’s treated the Almighty and other human beings. While we, as individual human beings, likely have an opinion about Smollett and the behavior he’s accused of committing, a wider or more “God-like” view should tell us that we too have a judge, and while we may not be guilty of faking racist or homophobic attacks on ourselves, we do need to pay attention to our own thoughts, words, and deeds first. Have we done something that hurts others because of our own selfishness? If the answer is yes, then it behooves us to make amends in our own lives. This won’t change Smollett, and it won’t justify us “badmouthing” him, but it will mean we’re capable of learning a lesson here. So, hopefully, is Jussie Smollett.

"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