–Ethics of the Fathers 2:21
In economics, the bottom line measures success and failure. Someone who goes into a business venture with complete recklessness, yet makes a great deal of money, is considered a successful entrepreneur. Another person who was extremely cautious and applied sound business principles, yet went bankrupt, is considered a failure.
Unfortunately, we tend to apply these values to our personal, non-business lives. If things do not turn out the way we wish, we may think that we have performed badly. This is not true. If parents abuse and neglect their children, yet one child wins the Nobel Prize, or discovers the cure for cancer, they do not suddenly become good parents. On the other hand, if they did their utmost to raise their children well, yet one becomes a criminal, they are not necessarily bad parents.
We must understand that we have no control over outcome. All we can control is process, i.e. what we do. If we act with sincerity and with the best guidance available, then what we are doing is right.
Parents whose children turn out to be anti-social invariably fault themselves and may be consumed by guilt. Their pain is unavoidable, but their guilt is unjustified.
Humans do not have the gift of prophecy, nor do we always have the most accurate knowledge. We should hold ourselves responsible for that which we can control, but we should not hold ourselves responsible for that which is beyond our control.
Today I shall…
…try to realize that I must judge the correctness of my actions by how I arrive at them, and not by what results from them.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 16”
There’s a lot going on here including the struggle to define what is good and what is bad, not only in our own actions, but in the actions of others. We all know our own intent when we say or do something, but even when that intent is good, especially on the Internet, our words can be taken in the wrong way and people can respond with offense and even hurt and anger, as if we had gone out of our way to try to injure them. On the web, that’s usually how we define an “enemy.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. –Matthew 5:43-45 (ESV)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)
None of this is suggesting that Jesus or Paul wanted us to give a kiss on the cheek to someone who’s holding the barrel of a loaded handgun to our head. It’s not as if we are forbidden from defending ourselves in war or must allow ourselves to be beaten during a robbery attempt. We see Christ’s intent in his juxtaposing the words “neighbor” and “enemy.” Someone can be our “enemy” if they are our next door neighbor. Maybe we’re upset with them because they borrowed our favorite power tool six months ago and never gave it back, or they have a dog that barks half the night but refuses to quiet the animal. For whatever reason, our “neighbor” can become our bitter enemy and they can even say bad things about us and malign our character unjustly.
This happens a lot on the web and often in blogs and blog comments (and I’ve written about this many times before). While I haven’t been “stung” in a little while, in my readings this morning (as I write this), it occurred to me that misunderstanding and misinformation are rampant on the Internet, and disagreements or differences of opinion on a good many things, but particularly in the world of religion, have created many enemies from the body of our neighbors. Against my better judgment, I’m going to refer to a blog post by Judah Himango, his commentary on a sermon delivered at his wife’s church (Judah attends church with his wife on Sunday but considers his Hebrew Roots congregation, which meets on Saturday, to be his primary place of worship) which Judah calls My experience at church today, a friendly criticism of Pastor Troy Dobbs’ sermon on Jesus and the Sabbath.
In reading Judah’s commentary, I must say that I agree with him that the Pastor in question was not accurate, (in my humble opinion) and that his message from the pulpit reflected a very traditional supersessionist stance which we have often observed in the church historically. I have been fortunate to find a church and a Pastor who sees beyond the rhetoric and back into the Scriptures in a way that reflects what I believe to be the true intent of Jesus and the Apostles relative to Jews, Judaism, and the Torah (although we don’t agree on everything), but many other churches still have a long way to go. Does that make the particular Pastor at Judah’s church my “enemy” or any sort of enemy to those of us to disagree that “the Law was nailed to the cross and replaced by grace?”
Absolutely not. In fact, at one point in the comments section, Judah even defends this Pastor by saying, “Pastor Dobbs has much great teaching.” It’s only on certain points that Judah and Pastor Dobbs disagree; it’s not (I hope) a more general drawing of battle lines between Hebrew Roots and Christianity, as if they were mutually exclusive entities (although I’m disappointed to find out that Judah “posted [a] friendly criticism on the Church’s website, underneath their post for this particular sermon, and on the Church’s Facebook page, but they deleted both..”) I think we in the church should be big enough to take a few criticisms rather than assuming what we say will always be taken as “Gospel” by literally everyone hearing the message without question.
I don’t believe it Judah’s intent to say that only his perspective is correct and everything produced by any Christian Pastor is wrong (unfortunately, a number of people have commented on his blog who seem to have a more “adversarial” relationship with Christianity and the church), but it is all too easy for most of us to start making enemies between different factions of Christianity by pointing out where they (we) disagree and ignoring how much alike both sides actually are. It’s inevitable that we are going to disagree, particularly in the religious blogosphere, but then, what are we supposed to do about it? What did Jesus and Paul say to do in their words as I quoted them above? What did Rabbi Twerski say?
Today I shall try to realize that I must judge the correctness of my actions by how I arrive at them, and not by what results from them.
Said another way, perhaps we should try to realize that we must judge the correctness of the actions of others by how they arrive at them, not by what results from them. If we understand that our good intentions can be misunderstood, then we must certainly grant that same “grace” to others. No, it’s not like we have to agree with everything that everyone else says and we can certainly recognize and challenge error, but the fact that we disagree with someone and think they’re wrong about something doesn’t make them bad or evil, nor does it make them our enemy, unless we choose to decide that they are.
Pastor Dobbs isn’t Judah’s enemy and frankly, he isn’t mine, either. Extending that out from individuals to systems, it also doesn’t mean that the church is the enemy of Hebrew Roots or even Messianic Judaism (or any Judaism). Yes, there has been great enmity between Christians and Jews historically, and yes, sermons like those delivered by Pastor Dobbs have often been used to maintain the distance and to some degree, the hostility we sometimes experience between Christians and Jews. To deny the validity of Jews and Judaism within the confines of what once was a sect of Judaism is kind of crazy-making, especially if you think the scriptures support such a position.
But the answer to this problem isn’t to make enemies, to revile “the church,” or to believe that some other movement that exists outside of Christianity is the only valid expression of the worship of Messiah. The answer, or at least part of it, is communication, fellowship, and patience. This is why I thought it was rather poor form of whoever manages the church’s website and Facebook page to remove Judah’s commentary (assuming it was worded in a respectful manner). Of course, depending on the church’s policy on public communications, it might be a conversation that would better be conducted (initially) in private, but even that might not have yielded Judah a friendly and receptive audience.
What to do? There’s probably no one right answer for all people and all churches, but I think part of the answer is what Boaz Michael suggests in his book Tent of David. We need to persist in the church. We need to be present in the church. We need to be the change we want to see in the church, not by forcing our thoughts, feelings, and opinions down the church’s collective throat, but by living the sort of life we believe is right in relation to Jews, Judaism, and Israel. But this doesn’t mean we should act like Jews, Judaism, and Israel (and I said just yesterday, that the best way to preserve the safety and continuance of Judaism and the Jewish people is for we Christians to protect Jewish identity, especially from ourselves).
Paul says we must do our best, as far as it depends on our own behavior, to “live peaceably with all,” which includes those with whom we disagree. And when we disagree, our response is not to beat our “enemy” about the head and shoulders with a blunt instrument (such as a handy Torah scroll), but to “heap burning coals” on their heads by offering them acts of kindness, meeting their needs, and providing for their requirements. Part of that, for some of us anyway, is to show up at church every week, to attend Sunday School, to take a weekday evening class offered at church, to smile and be friendly, to make relationships.
No one is going to listen to us, especially in a disagreement, unless we’ve first established a relationship with them and we’ve demonstrated that we are committed to being part of the church community. Even if we go on a more or less regular basis, if we are going as if we’re just guests and not part of the church, who will want to listen to us? Why will anybody care? They don’t think we care, so why should they?
If you want to inspire change, you have to demonstrate love. This isn’t just one group trying to convince another group to change their minds or to acknowledge that our group may have a valid point. The ability to commit and to show love has much wider and deeper implications.
The purpose of every human being is to serve his Creator, and that is a service of great joy: “I, puny mortal and decidedly finite being, serve with my deeds the Infinite Creator of All Worlds! I am bound to the Source of Life from birth, and all the many raging waters of this world cannot tear me away from that bond. Even if I sometimes fail, I may always return and in a single moment reconnect all my soul.”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Infinite Connection”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I disagree with Judah that it will always be a mistake to ask anyone who supports Jews, Judaism, the Jewishness of Messiah, and the centrality of Israel to become part of a traditional church (though I admit, it isn’t for everybody). After all, Judah and his wife are part of a church and yet that doesn’t seem to have inhibited his ability to express a differing opinion. I’m a part of my church, and the content of my blog posts should provide ample evidence that I haven’t been “brainwashed” or otherwise inhibited from holding and expressing my individual perspectives. Boaz Michael, who wrote Tent of David, and his wife Amber regularly attend a small Baptist church in their community and yet, he is not only able to write such a book, but his Pastor actually wrote the book’s introduction, endorsing Michael’s views.
The church isn’t a building or a denomination or even a theology. The church is people. The church is the body of Messiah, all of us, each and every individual who acknowledges that Jesus Christ is Lord and Yeshua HaMoshiach is ani or ha-olam (light of the world). Yes, the body of the Messiah seems hopelessly shredded, fragmented, scattered, and dismembered, with the bloody parts strewn to the four corners of the globe. But God has promised to gather the Jews who are called by His Name back to Israel (Zechariah 10:6-8, Micah 2:12) and He has also promised to gather the Gentiles from the nations who are also called by His Name (Zechariah 14:16-19, Amos 9:11-12).
One day the body of the Messiah will be One just as God’s Name is One. The body will still have “parts” even as an individual human body has many parts, but all of those parts must work together in harmony if the body is to live and to maintain good health. So to it will be for the body of Messiah. Yet, we in that body will only wither and die if we say that we reject another body part or that our own part is the only thing the body needs. Can a person live without a heart or a liver? Can the lungs say that they are the only body part the person needs and all of the other parts are “wrong?”
Even when Israel has behaved in total disobedience, God called her back to Him like a groom calls his virgin bride. How can we do any less when we perceive disagreement between ourselves and some other part of the church? I know the analogy is far from perfect, but to believe otherwise is to deny that Christ has a body of those who are called by his name or worse, it’s to say that in our own opinion, we have judged only ourselves to be the “true church” and that all congregations who don’t agree with us right down to the finest theological detail, are not part of the larger Messianic community.
Seize the vision of hope, healing, unity, and community. The beginning of restoration of the body of Christ starts with one person reaching out a friendly hand to another, even when they’ve disagreed, and calling him “brother.”