Tag Archives: arrogance

Broken People and Tipping Sacred Cows


See my Addendum below since there’s more to the story

This is the third Sunday in a row I’ve been able to take my Mom to church. The Pastor’s sermon was based on the passage from 1 John 1:1 to 2:2 and titled “Honest to God.” You can take a moment to click the link and keep that portion of scripture handy.

Actually, it’s not just his sermon I’m writing about but we’ll get to that.

Pastor pointed the dualities listed by John:

Light and Dark
Truth and Lie
Righteousness and Sin

As believers we should solidly embrace the concepts on the left, but being humans we don’t always do that because of our ignorance, weakness, or willfulness.

I won’t go through all of his points, but he did say that forgiveness should be the church’s main message and that the church is or should be a safe haven for everyone in their brokenness.

Now from an outside point of view, is Christianity seen that way? Generally not. Secular and progressive people see Christians are judgmental and hypocrites.

Can Christians actually be judgmental and hypocrites? Certainly. See above about how, while we should be in the light, we many times can walk in the darkness of our own damaged humanity.

Pastor said the focus here is not only should we be humble before God, but before each other. In fact, if we did display such humility in each of our churches, if we had loving and trustworthy fellowship with other believers, the church’s outside appearance would indeed transform into that safe and forgiving place. After all, 1 John 2:2 says that “…and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

As an aside, I feel I should also provide Bible Gateway’s definition of “propitiation” since it’s one of those words I don’t come across very often: “means of reconciliation with God by atoning for sins; or sin-offering.”

That means reconciliation with God isn’t just available to the church, Jesus carried out his propitiation for sins so it is available to everyone.

Those of you who experience me on social media or even this or my other blogs know I’m not always on that side of the light in my opinions and attitudes and I do freely admit that. I also concede that Pastor is right that I, we, all of us should continuously work forward toward presenting Christianity as offering the forgiveness of our Savior and safety for the broken, the lost, and the suffering.

I could offer a number of traditional examples of when we don’t, but here’s something I found in the Campus Reform article Theology prof: ‘Dear God, please help me to hate White people’. Caught me a little off guard.

This article describes seminary professor Chanequa Walker-Barnes, found on twitter at @DrChanequa, and describes her as “an associate professor of practical theology at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, which claims a Baptist identity. Her oration was published in A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal.

Yes, that book is a New York Times best seller and Dr. Walker-Barnes did somewhat qualify what she means by “hate white people.”

Quoting from the article:

“Dear God, Please help me to hate White people,” opens the prayer. “Or at least to want to hate them. At least, I want to stop caring about them, individually and collectively.”

“I want to stop caring about their misguided, racist souls, to stop believing that they can be better, that they can stop being racist,” she continues.

“I am not talking about the White antiracist allies who have taken up this struggle against racism with their whole lives,” Walker-Barnes clarifies for the Creator of the universe. “No, those aren’t the people I want to hate.”

This is a seminary professor. Let’s assume there are some white people who she is justified in hating. But to pray to God for that?

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. –John 3:17


[But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots, dividing His garments among themselves. –Luke 23:24

So which white people does Dr. Walker-Barnes need the Almighty’s assistance in hating?

Walker-Barnes says that she has no interest in hating “strident segregationists who mow down nonviolent antiracist protesters, who open fire on Black churchgoers, or who plot acts of racism terrorism hoping to start a race war,” as such people are “already in hell.” Instead, she desires the strength of God to hate “the nice ones” — specifically, the “Fox News-loving, Trump-supporting voters who ‘don’t see color’ but who make thinly veiled racist comments about ‘those people.’”

She adds that such White people “welcome Black people in their churches and small groups but brand us as heretics if we suggest that Christianity is concerned with the poor and the oppressed” and “politely tell us that we can leave when we call out the racial microaggressions we experience in their ministries.”

Apparently her published prayer as garnered her many new twitter followers and her commentary, an image of which I post here, is her response. People love her.

dr chanequa
Screenshot from twitter

I get that in the history of at least American slavery, certain portions of the Bible and Christianity as a whole was misused as a tool to continue that heinous institution. On the other hand when I compare her quotes to what Pastor had to say about being Christians, I don’t see that one looks anything like the other.

Christ and especially the Apostle Paul reached out to the whole world and as Pastor said, that’s still the church’s mission. In that sense, I can sort of agree with a few of Dr. Walker-Barnes’ points. We are called to not be Xenophobic, as one of the tweets declares. Also, Paul could also have an attitude in his letters, but he called out other believers, those he had taught, had a relationship with, and established in their communities.

Would he have sounded like this person if social media existed in his time? For both Jesus and Paul, it wasn’t about “I engage when I want and I block when I want.” Especially for Paul, he wasn’t interested in “calling out” the corruption of the Roman Empire as much as speaking truth to anyone who would listen. He wanted to go to Rome not to “chew out” the Emperor, but, if at all possible, to convince him of the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ.

I know especially now, it can be hard to separate party politics, identity politics, and faith. I often stir a similar pot myself (and I could be accused of doing that now). But every time I do, I diminish that message of the church as the nucleus of forgiveness and the protective haven, or for that matter, that we’re all broken.

I don’t doubt that Dr. Walker-Barnes’ rather outspoken comments ultimately come from her brokenness. After all, the New York Times “blurb” describes the book that contains her prayer as:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For the weary, the angry, the anxious, and the hopeful, this collection of moving, tender prayers offers rest, joyful resistance, and a call to act, written by Barbara Brown Taylor, Amena Brown, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and other artists and thinkers, curated by the author Glennon Doyle calls “my favorite faith writer.”

But from her position of influence and power (I’ve got to wonder about some of these other “artists and thinkers”), I would urge Walker-Barnes to listen to a few sermons from small town preachers whose only motivation is to teach humility by mirroring it such as we find in Micah 6:8.

micah-6-8The article concludes:

“This thread isn’t for the critics,” she adds. “They’re so wrapped in white supremacist Christianity that only God and maybe some cult deprogramming can help them.”

While I agree that some portions of Christianity are still very much misused today and do not reflect the Gospel of Jesus, I wonder if it would ever occur to her that she’s doing the same thing in replacing the meaning and intent of scripture with her feelings?

Addendum 4-12-2021: Something wouldn’t let me let go of the issues surrounding Dr. Walker-Barnes prayer. I went back to her twitter account a few times and saw what I thought I’d see. I saw her defending herself, stating both that she has “white friends” and that her prayer is Biblically consistent because many Psalms have been written asking God to “smite enemies.”

Chanequa Walker-Barnes, image taken from her Faculty page at theology.mercer.edu

Admittedly, those sound pretty lame. Then there were the scores of defenders that said if her critics knew Dr. Walker-Barnes, they would know she doesn’t hate white people. Again, this was really predictable, so I was prepared to set it all aside and move on. Then I saw that she wrote a blog post called Prayer of a Weary Black Woman.

First of all, at the bottom of her blog post, she posted the full text of her prayer as PDF pages, photos of the book the prayer appeared in. Unfortunately, two full pages of the five were distorted and unreadable. Still, it did illustrate that what she was ultimately trying to say to God and then to other people was more than the cherry picked text I saw quoted. She also related her personal history to give context and that she’d written that prayer impulsively in response to a white person she thought was her friend using the “N-word” to her in casual conversation.

Even after writing her blog, many people who read it weren’t really convinced. Yes, she wrote the prayer in haste, and given a good enough reason, we can all (proverbially) go off half-cocked. However, being a published author of both information technology textbooks, and of short stories published in anthologies, I know she had plenty of time to decide if that prayer, as written, should have been shared with the general public. She had plenty of time to decide what it would say about her “witness for Christ.” She has plenty of time to decide if she were a psalmist like King David, or a Biblical prophet of old.

The reason a lot of people are expressing anger toward her, in my opinion, has little or nothing to say about her hating at least some white people. Hate is a personal decision and given her experiences, I have no doubt that she may harbor hate in her heart for some folks. The problem is that she asked God to harden her heart for people she already felt compassion for, i.e. her “enemies.” What does that say to the rest of us when we are wronged by someone, especially someone who we are in fellowship with in Jesus? Yes, dropping an “N-bomb” can and should be called out, but that’s not the issue, is it?

I’ve always asked God to make me a better person, a kinder, more generous person, a person who had a better heart, especially for people who aren’t like me. I’m not saying this because I’m angry at Dr. Walker-Barnes. I was when I first read her words, but that passed rather quickly. Whether we intend to or not, as Christians, the minute we decide to go off the rails and use God and the Bible to invoke hate, even if there’s justification for it, what are we saying to all other Christians everywhere? Worse, what are we saying to an unbelieving world that God is still trying to reach?

Given everything I’ve read up until this moment, I most seriously doubt Dr. Walker-Barnes wants to hear from me, so I won’t attempt to engage her. Earlier today (as I write this) I did “tag” her on twitter when I posted a link to this blog post, but that’s the extent of it. She’s done what she’s done and there’s no taking it back (especially since she’s encouraging people to buy the book in which her prayer is printed). You and I will never know the full consequences of her actions and how it has affected the attitudes of so many toward God.

But if you’re a believer at all, you know that someday we will all face the Almighty and have to give an accounting for everything we’ve done in this life. I’m really glad I don’t have the audience and influence that Dr. Walker-Barnes has, and we know that teachers will be held to a higher standard. If anything, this should be a good lesson for the rest of us. What we say and do matters. Even the least of us will never know if a word or an action on our part will gently push someone to Christ or drive them away.

The Consequences of Disagreeing

Learn to disagree without creating an unpleasant argument.

A mature disagreement is when two people both listen carefully to the other’s position in order to understand the position and why the person feels that way.

The Torah obligates us to treat each person with respect – even if you disagree.

(For a series of probing questions on this topic, see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,” pp.125-7)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Disagree Respectfully”
from “Today’s Daily Lift”

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of my most recent What I Learned in Church Today blog post including Pastor Randy’s rebuttal to my comments. Though he may not believe this, I’ve been deeply concerned about how what I’ve written affects him and others. I was trying to communicate that in the aforementioned article but I’m not sure I was successful.

My problem is just how far to go in expressing my opinion, either in church itself or on my blog. I guess I could split the difference, since “church” doesn’t belong to me in the sense that I “own” the social and communal space, while I do “own” the communication conduit of my blog. I could keep mum at church and spew all of my thoughts and feelings out into the blogosphere (and I do the latter on a regular basis).

But I don’t exactly keep quiet in church, at least not in Sunday school. Granted, I don’t attempt to start a riot, and I do consciously limit the amount of interaction I allow myself to what I hope is a tolerable degree. I know I’m not always successful in this, however.

But as the quote from Rabbi Pliskin above suggests, the issue isn’t so much disagreement but whether or not respect is maintained. I don’t know if I’ve been doing this very well. When researching R. Pliskin’s write-ups on this topic, a few other entries came up in my search:

People can have diverse opinions. They can have different personalities. They can have different goals and objectives. Even so, they can choose to interact in peaceful ways, and discuss their differences with mutual respect. At times they will work out solutions to their mutual satisfaction, and at times they will not. Nevertheless, they can be calm, and think clearly about the wisest course to take.

(Growth Through Tehillim: Exploring Psalms for Life Transforming Thoughts, p. 92)

Disagree Respectfully

When it comes to being assertive, the ideal is to be able to speak up whenever appropriate and to do so respectfully.

Think of some situations in the past when you were not as assertive as you wish you were. Imagine yourself being able to say anything to anyone (as long as it is appropriate). Then take action to assert yourself in a way that you have not done so before.

(For a series of probing questions on this topic, see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,”pp.131-3)

Be Respectfully Assertive

SilenceAh, the words “When it comes to being assertive, the ideal is to be able to speak up whenever appropriate,” accuse me. Is it always appropriate to speak up? Isn’t “silence golden?” Shouldn’t I “go along to get along?”

I think people would be a lot more comfortable around me at church if I really did keep my mouth shut, and I can only imagine I’d cause Pastor Randy fewer headaches and gray hairs if I kept his sermons out of my blog. It’s going to come to that. Given the tone of the comments on the blog post in question, I don’t see any other reasonable choice on my part, especially if “respectfulness” is to be maintained rather than me just being “assertive” all the time. I’ve already taken it too far.

In exploring whether or not my pontificating about church is a sign of my personal arrogance, I consulted Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s series 48 Ways to Wisdom and specifically Way #29: Subtle Traps of Arrogance. Am I really all that smart or well-educated in theological knowledge that I always know better than trained and educated Pastors and Bible teachers? Am I infallible? Certainly not. Then where does this drive to learn more and express what I believe come from? You’d think I’d be smart enough to shut up, listen and learn.

Who is wise? He who learns from all people.

-Pirkei Avot 4:1

On the other hand, self-expression, particularly in writing, is how I process information and make sense out of it (which is what I’m doing right now). Until then, it’s just a bunch of thought fragments floating around in the global context of my mind or at best, scrawled and scribbled notes on torn and frayed pieces of paper. Dressing them up, so to speak, by blogging creates a framework within which I can organize that information and even respond to it in some fashion. It has the added (if sometimes dubious) benefit of eliciting responses from interested readers on the web.

R. Weinberg’s article ended with a bullet point summary:

  • If you’re busy patting yourself on the back for what you’ve achieved, you won’t make an effort to do more.
  • If you’re constantly defending your opinions, you’ll never be open to hearing new ideas.
  • If you are arrogant about your ideas, then you are limiting yourself.
  • If you’re grateful, you will grow.
  • If you experience pleasure in doing the right thing, then look for more pleasure.

I suppose the point stating “If you’re constantly defending your opinions, you’ll never be open to hearing new ideas” is the most applicable one since by the very definition of my “mediations”, I’m expressing opinions that are in need of defending, at least at the moment when someone disagrees. I guess turning it around, I’m the one disagreeing with traditional Church doctrine, and that has resulted in Pastor Randy having to comment on my blog to defend his position, something he wouldn’t have had to do if I’d have kept my hands off the keyboard and my opinions of his sermon to myself.

I suppose it also comes down to whether or not I’m limiting myself by being arrogant about my ideas.

study-in-the-darkBut these aren’t ideas I’ve cooked up out of “ham fat,” so to speak, but out of hours and hours of reading, listening to lectures and sermons online, and writing, and pondering, not in order to puff myself up, but to authentically read and understand the Bible as a single, unified document containing the single, unswerving intent and plan of God to redeem Israel and thus redeem all of Creation. For me, Christian theology and doctrine doesn’t provide the solution. No matter how I slice it, Christian doctrine forces the plan of God to “jump the tracks” at least once in the Bible, in order to take the plain meaning of Torah and the prophecies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and make them fit traditional Christian beliefs as they have evolved in the centuries of the “post-Nicene Church”.

If the Bible is as Evangelical Christianity says it is, then both God and the Bible don’t make sense and further, they (in my opinion) pull a major bait-and-switch on Israel and the Jewish people.

I just want the Bible to make sense and from my current perspective, I believe it does.

But back to the question of what to do about this?

In general, writing little theological essays from my amateur’s point of view probably does little if any harm. According to one estimate, as of November 2013, there were over 152 million blogs in the Internet, and a new blog is being created somewhere in the world every half a second.

That’s a lot of blogs.

Among all of that, my one little blog is completely insignificant. Of course, I occupy a rather rarefied space in the blogosphere, not only as a religious blogger (plenty of those around), but one who specifically comments on non-Jewish participation in Messianic Judaism (or maybe it should be expressed as “Messianic Gentilism” or something like that).

Of course, the second I comment on a specific individual, such as a Pastor, or on the teachings of a particular church, things narrow down considerably in terms of the “influence” or at least the “impact” I can have on people’s lives.

I really don’t think I’m being arrogant in the sense that I’m always right and people had better see things my way or else, but that isn’t to say I couldn’t have done things better or have been more considerate. Where’s the fine line between being respectfully assertive and being arrogant? Where’s the line in the sand separating humble respect from passivity or censorship (even if self-imposed)?

The only solution that avoids hurting others in relation to church is to not talk at or write about church. Oh, I guess I can say “Hi, how are you,” but expressing a theological opinion in Sunday school will have to be a “no-no,” and certainly writing any commentary on sermons or Sunday school lessons must be taken off the table completely.

the-crossThat’s probably like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped but it’s better than continuing to hammer away at a nail that’s already been beaten flat (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor).

Better late than never.

What do I do from here? I have a pretty good idea about that but will let it cook for a day or two (or more — or less) longer just to make sure. Given a good enough reason, I can go off half-cocked but I’d like to avoid it if at all possible. I spent a long time praying and pondering before returning to church. I’ve made a nearly two-year investment in Christian community. In the aftermath of what I’ve done, I have to see just what is left…if anything.

David’s Fallen Tent in the Wilderness

The Torah states:

“And the Almighty spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai” (Numbers 1:1).

Why does the Torah specify “the wilderness” of the Sinai desert? It would have been sufficient to say “in the Sinai desert”; everyone knows that deserts are wildernesses.

The Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah comments on this verse, “Whoever does not make himself open and free like a wilderness will not be able to acquire wisdom and Torah”. This refers to having the trait of humility which allows a person to learn from everyone and to teach everyone.

An arrogant person will only be willing to learn from someone he feels is befitting his honor. A humble person is only concerned with gaining Torah knowledge and will be grateful to learn new ideas even from one who has less overall knowledge than himself.

The Midrash teaches that the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai because Mt. Sinai was the lowest of all the mountains. This symbolizes that if a person wants to receive wisdom he must be humble. If he is full of himself there is little room for anything else.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar
Based on Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book
Growth Through Torah

Wow, speaking of arrogance and humility. Rabbi Pliskin’s message as presented by Rabbi Packouz came along at the right time.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been pondering my wife’s accusation of my being arrogant in my approach to attending church and presenting my particular (and from their point of view, unique) perspective on the Bible, the Messiah, Jewish people, and Judaism. How dare I walk into someone else’s house and tell them they should redecorate, what color to paint the walls, and that their taste in art is hideous?

Well, hopefully, I wasn’t that bad, but sometimes it feels like it.

As Ben Zoma said:

Who is one that is wise? One who learns from every person.

Pirkei Avot 4:1

I am inexorably drawn toward learning from Jewish sources, and yet when I try to enthusiastically share what I’ve learned with my fellow Christians, I feel like I’m the only guy in the room speaking Martian.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Interestingly enough, I have learned a lot by going to church. Not so much in the areas of theology or doctrine, although it’s been illuminating to capture the Evangelical perception of theology and doctrine, but in the areas of history, both Church history and the more generic kind, church social dynamics, and…brace yourself…kindness.

No matter how much of a pest I make of myself, people are still smiling at me, reaching out to me, offering to listen to my woes (should I ever share them in person), and to pray for me.

Who is wise? One who learns from every person, including every person at church. Yes, there is much to learn. I have to remember that church isn’t just theology and doctrine, it’s action. It’s the perpetual food drive I donate to every time I go to church, dedicated to feeding the hungry in our local community. It’s the missionary effort around the world, serving people who have never heard of the compassion of Christ, it’s visiting the sick, offering comfort to the grieving, providing care and education for little children.

“What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.”

-John Ruskin

Ironically, most Christians are so “works-phobic” that they don’t count their own good deeds (mitzvot) as really meaning anything in the cosmic economy of God, more’s the pity, because it’s what the Church does best.

I don’t have as much to complain about as I think:

“A child, for example, cuts his finger and screams the house down. An adult cuts his finger and gets on with life. Children live in the here and now, so a child has no context for his pain. There is no meaningful future to look forward to, just the immediacy of the pain. An adult realizes that the pain will pass and life will be good again in spite it. He doesn’t suffer. And, by the way, why is it that when you hug and kiss a child the pain seems to go? It’s not the pain that goes, it’s the suffering. You have given the child a meaningful context for the pain – the context of a parent’s love. The child still feels the pain, but with a newfound context for it, he no longer suffers.

“An adult must find his own meaning in his pain. Sometimes it is obvious, as in the case of a woman in labor. Sometimes it is a little harder. But when he or she can look at the pain as a means to grow, a means to develop deeper self-understanding, then the pain remains, but the suffering will be forgotten.

“Everyone goes through pain in life. But not one of us has to suffer if we do not want to.

“Again, the choice is ours.”

-Rabbi Packouz

Rabbi M.M Schneerson, the Rebbe

R. Packouz is referring to tremendous human suffering and agonizing pain, not simply being frustrated when people around me don’t take my point of view seriously. What I am experiencing isn’t as painful as even a child’s cut finger. But I still gave in to the temptation to say, “ouch.”

I’ve started reading Sue Fishkoff’s book The Rebbe’s Army, and in the first chapter, she relates (pg 17):

The Besht’s (the Baal Shem Tov or Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer) message was revolutionary. His followers broke with certain Jewish norms, adopting specific dress and customs and making ritual modifications, all of which horrified the Jewish establishment.

I don’t know if I’ve “horrified” anyone, but I’m certainly shaking up the establishment here and there. Fishkoff also writes of the Besht:

“I have come into this world to show man how to live by three precepts,” he said. “Love of God, love of Israel, and love of the Torah.”

If I can have a similar purpose within my own context, then it wouldn’t be just me wielding my opinion like a sword, but the will of God to teach how to love and how to focus love.

Not that my fellow Christians are ignorant about love. Many, as I’ve said above, love greatly and demonstrate that love abundantly, particularly to the Jewish people. I just want to help illustrate that there is no dissonance between loving the Jewish people, loving Israel, loving the Torah, and loving God. There is no dissonance between loving Jewish people and realizing that means accepting and approving Jewish people loving the Torah, loving Israel, and loving God, including Messianic Jewish people.

Since I frequently read material published online by Aish.com, I often come across quotes of Rabbi Pliskin’s work, such as the one I cited above. I decided it was long past due to actually purchase one of his books, so after I finish Fishkoff’s book, I’ll be consulting (since it’s a Torah commentary) Growth Through Torah.

From what I can tell about R. Pliskin from his writing, he seems to stress compassion and kindness toward others. He seems like the sort of person who desires peace in the world and peace between people, rather than always banging heads over this theological point or that.

Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones

In many ways, we are at war in the world, battling against ignorance, hostility, brutality, and indifference, but if all we do…I do is fight, then I’ve simply redoubled my efforts after forgetting my purpose (a lesson I learned from Chuck Jones when he was describing his philosophy behind creating Wile E. Coyote to a film class I once attended).

I still don’t want to be too quick in deciding what I’m going to do next, so I’m not going to hastily pursue a conclusion.

On the other hand, there is this…

Giving up is a final solution to a temporary problem.

-anonymous holocaust survivor

And this…

While most Hasidim restrict their personal dealings to Jews, and some even to Jews within their own ultra-Orthodox communities, Lubavitchers have never been insular. Their first interest is in kindling the sparks within Jewish souls, but since the early 1980s they have widened their appeal to include non-Jews, whom they urge to remain within their own religions while obeying the seven laws God gave to Noah … This is crucial because only when all God’s divine sparks are released and reunited with the Divine Oneness will God’s purpose be achieved. “Our job is to make a dwelling place for God in the lower world,” says Rabbi Sholtiel Lebovic … “We try to make the world a more and more godly place, until the coming of Moshiach [the Messiah].”

-Fishkoff, pg 22

Although many Orthodox Jews, including Chabadniks, look down their noses at Gentiles and particularly Christians, here we see a perspective that acknowledges all human beings are “sparks” thrown off by the Divine Oneness, and only by all of those sparks being united with their Source can the world be prepared for the coming (return) of the King.

I’m one of those small sparks. But so is each and every individual soul at the church I attend, and each and every individual soul in all of the churches in the world. They’re just waiting for someone to discover them, reveal them, and free them, so they can fly…so they can soar.

I should take a fresh look at the blueprints for that tent again and see if God really wants me to help build it.

Collapsing the Tent of David

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

Genesis 2:18 (NASB)

Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

Acts 21:26 (NASB)

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.

Romans 14:5-6 (NASB)

You’re probably wondering what those different portions of scripture have in common. Actually, relative to my experiences last Sunday, quite a lot.

The topic of both the sermon and the Sunday school class at church was Acts 21:15-26. It was a source of a great deal of frustration for me, but I have to be thankful to Pastor Randy for cluing me in about something first.

He reminded his audience of the great accomplishments of the Jewish people and Israel across the centuries, and made sure that we all got the idea that God didn’t do away with the Old Testament (Tanakh), the nation of Israel, and the Jewish people.

He also let us know that, in the debate over whether or not Paul did the right thing by paying the expenses of the four men under a vow at the Temple and offering sacrifices, over half of those historic and modern scholars upon whom Pastor depends for his research strongly believe that not only did Paul make a mistake, but that he sinned by participating in the Temple rites.

Fortunately, Pastor doesn’t agree with that opinion (and neither do I) and in listening to various people conversing after the sermon, I was relieved to hear that most (but not all) of the people around me have the same opinion as Pastor.

But Pastor kept repeating that offering sacrifices doesn’t atone for sins, it never did. This reminded me of time after time during our previous private discussions, when talking about the continuation of Torah observance for the Jewish people including Jewish believers, he kept stressing the same point.

However, while listening to the sermon, I had something of a minor revelation similar to the one that resulted in me writing The Two-Thousand Year Old Christian Mistake.

You see, I agree with Pastor that the sacrifices in and of themselves have no power to atone for sins and to save a human being from the consequences of God’s justice. We are only saved through faith and out of that faith, we obey God. That’s what Paul and every other Jew who sincerely participated in the Temple rituals was doing. Obeying God out of faith.

So why beat up the Torah by saying it doesn’t save when I fully agree that simple, mechanical performance of the mitzvot with no intent or faith behind it is just going through the motions?

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Acts 15:1 (NASB)

This has alway puzzled me because circumcision (that is, the physical act of being circumcised and then observing the Torah commandments) isn’t what saves a person, and these gentlemen from Judea should have known that. Of course, they should have known that.

But that’s not what they meant.

When an Evangelical Christian reads that verse he or she thinks the Jews involved are saying that performing the mitzvot including the sacrifices in the Temple is what saves. But they were never meant to save. They are the conditions of the covenant relationship with God and that relationship in covenant, through faith, is what saves.

Oh duh.

Why didn’t I see this before?

Irony of GalatiansThe big hang up Christians have with the Torah is because of a misunderstanding of what the folks they call “Judaizers” were saying (Nanos more aptly refers to them as “influencers” since New Testament scholars can’t seem to agree on exactly who these people were. See The Irony of Galatians).

The “influencers” Paul refers to in his epistle to the Galatians and the Jews we hear from in Acts 15:1 weren’t saying that obeying the mitzvot and making the various sacrifices at the Temple would save the Gentile. They were saying that the Gentiles needed to be in a covenant relationship with God in order to be saved.

Especially for non-Jesus-believing Jews, the New Covenant times weren’t even on the horizon. How could they be? From their perspective, Messiah had not yet come. Thus, the Gentiles had no standing before God unless they became proselytes and entered into the Sinai covenant with God as converts to Judaism. Being a God-fearing Gentile might have been a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t a covenant relationship.

But Paul and many of the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) knew that the New Covenant had been inaugurated with the death and resurrection of the Master, so through faith in Messiah, the Gentiles could be grafted in and benefit from the blessings of that covenant, which had begun to enter the world but had not yet completely arrived.

If you miss the distinction, that it’s being in a covenant relationship with God through faith that saves rather than just the literal behaviors of the conditions of a covenant, you completely misunderstand the Jews advocating for Gentile conversion.

These “Judaizers” or “Influencers” weren’t bad, awful, evil people. They may have had genuine concern for the Gentiles who had attached themselves to the Jewish religious movement of “the Way”. These Jews, some of whom could have been Jesus-believers with an incomplete understanding of the New Covenant blessings upon the Gentiles, may have been authentically puzzled why Paul was treating the Gentiles as if they were equal co-participants, both socially and in covenant, in Jewish religious life. They may have felt that the Gentiles couldn’t participate in covenant blessings without conversion, because they didn’t see any other way to reconcile the Gentiles to God.

Paul understood, but his viewpoint wasn’t always terribly popular with Jewish populations who didn’t apprehend his vision (figuratively and literally).

Once you figure it out, you realize the issue was never that the mitzvot saved, it was Covenant relationship. It always has been and it’s still the issue we struggle to comprehend today. Jews are the focus of almost all of the covenants we see in the Bible including the Sinai and New Covenants. Gentiles are included under a single provision of the Abrahamic covenant and by faith in Jesus, in the blessings of the New Covenant.

And that’s what I got out of last Sunday’s sermon, not that Pastor explained it that way, but by his preaching, I finally made the connection.

Things didn’t go so well in Sunday school. I was determined to make only one statement in class. I could have talked all day long about the Christian traditions that were being imposed on the text resulting in quite a few (in my opinion) erroneous assumptions being made by most of my classmates. One fellow pointblank told me Paul did sin because when Jesus was crucified, the sacrifices ended. I disagreed of course, and gave him a mini-explanation of what the Epistle to the Hebrews was really about, but I knew it was for nothing.

My Sunday school teacher heavily favors the sermons of John MacArthur and it is MacArthur’s opinion that the practice of Judaism by Jesus-believing Jews as we see it in the Book of Acts, was a transitional period between Jewish practice being within the will of God, and it being replaced by the grace of Jesus Christ, effectively extinguishing the “ceremonial laws” in the Torah.

John MacArthur

Teacher said it was MacArthur’s opinion that God was being patient and tolerant of the Jesus-believing Jews, including Paul, who continued in devotion to Hashem by davening at the set times of prayer, offering sacrifices in accordance to the commandments, observing Shabbos, keeping kosher, and all of the other portions of the Law that had been “nailed to the cross with Jesus.”

But there’s an apparent contradiction. In Acts, Luke depicts Paul as very pro-Torah, pro-Temple, pro-Jewish people, and pro-Judaism. However, a number of Paul’s letters, principally Galatians, seem to cast Paul in the role of being anti-Torah. That was the foundation for my comment in class when the issue of Romans 14 and the identity of the “weak” and “strong” (basing my opinion on Nanos in The Mystery of Romans) came up.

It was like I was talking in a language no one in the room understood. I saw quite a few blank stares, like no one could figure out what the heck I was talking about. One fellow, who is quite intelligent and well-read (and who holds a highly traditional Evangelical Christian view on the Bible) referenced Romans 14:5-6 to explain that it was (at that time) OK to either observe the Law or not observe the Law as long as it was for the sake of the Lord.

In other words, no one even understood my question and so they had no idea they had completely missed my point.

I let it go rather than continue to be a source of confusion and aggravation and after all, teacher said this was a lesson about unity.

Unity. That totally baffled me until I realized he meant Paul agreed to undergo the Temple ritual and humble himself to James and the Elders in Jerusalem as kind of “going along to get along.” They saw Paul as compromising in order to keep the peace, rather than standing his ground about the lack of validity in Jewish tradition, custom, and observance.

There was no way anyone in the classroom could have possibly imagined that Paul might have wanted to offer sacrifices and looked forward to participating in the Temple ritual, especially during the Holy Festival of Shavuot (although they all acknowledged why Paul should have totally been jazzed about Pentecost…the Acts 2 Pentecost, not the Greek word for the Jewish moed).

I spent the rest of the class time in a forced silence, so I was in a “terrific” mood when I left church and made the ten or fifteen minute drive back home.

When I walked in the kitchen trolling for lunch, my wife made the mistake of asking me how church went, and I made the mistake of telling her.

Then she reminded me of her role according to God:

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.”

Beresheet (Genesis) 2:18

IntermarriageThe translation I found at Chabad.org is a bit different than you’ll find in most Christian Bibles, and as I understand it, implies that God created woman to oppose her husband under certain circumstances.

Women can often cut through the fog that surrounds a man’s mind and get to the core of a matter, whether we like it or not.

My wife told me I was being arrogant if I thought I was going to change anyone’s mind, especially if that was any part of the reason I was going to church.

I got mad at first, but spending some time in the backyard pulling weeds gave me time to think.

I have been arrogant. I’ve walked into someone else’s religious and social space with the assumption that I had anything to offer them; that I had anything they wanted at all.

As it turns out, I have nothing to offer and certainly nothing anyone at church wants to hear or learn. I may think what I’m learning and how I understand the Bible is worthwhile and illuminating, but obviously I’m in a world of people who don’t see things like I do.

I kind of thought that was the point, but I’m realizing I’ve been wrong. I have no right to impose my point of view or to disagree with the people who are running the show at church. It’s their church. I’m just a glorified guest. I’m not a member and I couldn’t become a member with my current perspectives and attitudes.

My Sunday school teacher’s emphasis on unity is really the Church’s (big “C”) attitude about community. People must agree with each other for the sake of peace and unity because Christians believe certain things.

Whenever I make some sort of theological statement that conflicts with how my wife sees her convictions, she tells me “what Jews believe,” which largely comes from the local Chabad Rabbi. He tells her what Jews believe and helps orient her to a Jewish religious perspective (not that she in any way is Orthodox). So I should have realized there are certain things Christians believe too, and making some sort of theological statement that conflicts with how people in Sunday school see their convictions elicits the same response from them as I get from my spouse.

I have been arrogant, and naive, and just plain stupid.

I feel like an idiot and I feel ashamed.

I also have to question why I’m going to church, any church. In his book Tent of David, Boaz Michael emphasized that the “Messianic Gentile” must have the right attitude, one of humility and fellowship, when returning to (or staying in) church and being a sort of “light to the nations…uh, Christians.”

I blame myselfBut there’s a light you shine to help people see the path, and then there’s the really bright, annoying light you shine in people’s faces until they yell at you to turn the darn thing off.

If the “Tent of David” were inflatable, then I’d be guilty of letting at least some of the air out. I certainly feel deflated.

The Internet went out at my home on Sunday afternoon (long story) so I wasn’t able to write this blog post when my emotions were running high. That’s a good thing. I’ve had a day or so to mull things over and to cool off.

I know I disagree with most (or all) of the people at church about many things, and I have good reasons (whether anyone agrees with those reasons or not) why I believe what I do, but the people around me every Sunday morning are under no obligation whatsoever to care what I think and feel, particularly when it flies in the face of their Biblical and world view.

So I’ve got one of three options as I see it: Do what I’m doing now and continue to be an irritant not to mention desecrating the name of God, continue to go to church while keeping my big mouth shut and not participating in discussions, or leaving church and let bygones be bygones.

Frankly, in the eighteen months or so I’ve been going, I may have contributed a few positive things in church, but for the most part, no one knows what to do with me, or if they’ve made up their minds (and some have), they know they want nothing to do with me.

I’ve ruined more relationships, both face-to-face and online, by spewing my opinions and putting people off.

I’ve been letting the air out of David’s Tent or maybe I’ve been taking tools of mass destruction to it. I was supposed to be inflating it, constructing it, building it up, but now the thing is beginning to collapse around my ears. Maybe it should collapse around my mouth.

No, it’s not my mouth, it’s my attitude. I just got so caught up in what I know, that I forgot about what’s most important.

Any dispute which is for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure, and one which is not for the sake of Heaven will not ultimately endure.

-Pirkei Avot 5:20

36 Days: Two Pockets in My Sunday Suit

Rabbi Bunim of Pshis’cha said that everyone should have two pockets; one to contain, “I am but dust and ashes,” and the other to contain, “The world was created for my sake.” At certain times, we must reach into one pocket; at other times, into the other. The secret of correct living comes from knowing when to reach into which.

Humility is the finest of all virtues and is the source of all admirable character traits. Yet, if a person considers himself to be utterly insignificant, he may not care about his actions. He may think, “What is so important about what I do? It makes no difference, so long as I do not harm anyone.” Such feelings of insignificance can cause immoral behavior.

When a person does not feel that his actions are significant, he either allows impulses to dominate his behavior or slouches into inactivity. At such a time, he must reach into the pocket of personal grandeur and read: “I am specially created by God. He has a mission for me, that only I can achieve. Since this is a Divine mission, the entire universe was created solely to enable me to accomplish this particular assignment.”

When presidents and premiers delegate missions to their officials, those officials feel a profound sense of responsibility to carry out the mission in the best possible manner. How much more so when we are commissioned by God!

Today I shall…

keep in mind both the humbleness and the grandeur of the human being.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 1″

I cited this exact quote from Rabbi Twerski just a week ago but it seems appropriate to do so again. As you read this “meditation” it is Sunday morning, but given the Thanksgiving holiday and having my parents in town, I’m writing this several days in advance. As it is right now, I feel as if I will attend church again on Sunday and attend the same Sunday school class, having come (however tentatively) to terms with my failing grade in community.

If only I could continually recall the rather useful piece of information provided by Rabbi Bunim of Pshis’cha about having two pockets and reaching into one or the other as need be. I suspect that we all would be better people if we heeded such sage advice. But in attempting to balance out my character traits, I seem to have stumbled upon a greater and more “multi-dimensional” human problem.

When G‑d created the world, He created both good and evil. After these two elements came into being, they came before G‑d and asked for their respective missions. “Spread the light of goodness and kindness in the world,” G‑d instructed the Good Side. “This is achieved by making people aware of their Creator.”

G‑d then instructed the Evil Side to combat the good, thereby giving people the choice and opportunity to overcome adversity. The Evil Side asked, “But will I be able to do my job? Will people really listen to me?” When the Creator responded in the affirmative, the Evil Side asked to be told its name. “You will be called the Serpent,” said the Creator.

Upon hearing this, the Serpent became worried. He was afraid that his name alone would frighten people away and doom his mission. “Have no fear,” reassured G‑d, “you will succeed.”

Indeed, the Serpent was successful in misleading Eve to sin, convincing her to eat from the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and to share her sin with Adam. After Adam had eaten from the same fruit, G‑d banished the pair from Eden, and thus began all of life’s challenges.

However, when Adam and Eve realized their sin, they repented completely and managed to atone for their folly. Seeing the holiness that now permeated their lives, the Serpent came before the Creator again. “Destroy me,” he implored. “I will never be able to succeed now!”

-Rabbi Yossy Gordon
“Sly Arrogance”

Christians aren’t used to imagining “evil” as a sympathetic character and we certainly don’t imagine evil as a creation of God (and a useful one at that). I suppose that’s one of the reasons we Christians have a difficult time truly grasping how Jews think and conceive of God, the Bible, and everything.

As Rabbi Gordon proceeds to tell a tale attributed to Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch (the “Mitteler Rebbe,” 1773–1827), we see the “identity” of the evil inclination continue to be metamorphosed by God as circumstances required.

From the failed serpent, evil was transformed into the Angel of Death, which was greatly feared until the advent of Abraham, who spread knowledge of God to the people around him. After that, God had pity on the evil inclination and allowed the Angel of Death to become Satan. You’d think that would be his final identity, but no. In the guise of Satan, the evil inclination was able to do its work until Moses came and began teaching Torah. Satan was so forlorn that he begged the Creator to put him out of his misery.

God had other plans and renamed the adversary “Arrogance.”

Arrogance now began his career. This time, his disguise was so good that he even penetrated houses of Torah learning. The more a true scholar studies, the more he realizes how little he really knows. However, under the influence of Arrogance, people would study and not be humbled by their knowledge. Instead, they assumed airs of superiority and looked down with disdain at the unlearned. Of course, they sugarcoated these feelings by claiming to defend the dignity of their knowledge, not their own person.

Although this wasn’t to be the last guise of the evil inclination, it’s one that manages to adhere to and sway many, many religious people in the world. For some people I encounter, they “defend the dignity of their knowledge,” denying that they are actually arrogant, but some say they are defending the “truth of God” (though they are actually defending their own interpretation of “truth”) and thus apparently make themselves invulnerable to criticism (because to criticize such a person is to actually criticize God).

That’s not my problem, though. I’m not even sure the following is my problem, but in offering advice to a chassid who feared becoming arrogant due to his great Torah knowledge and devotion to prayer, Rabbi DovBer had this to say as the climax of his parable.

This continued until Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov arrived in this world. He revealed the true unity of G‑d, before whom all are equal—no matter their level of scholarship.

Again the Evil Side came before the Creator, disguised as Arrogance, asking for a merciful end. Again his name was changed. This time, instead of plain Arrogance, it would be known as “Fear of Arrogance.” Being less bold than plain old Arrogance, Fear of Arrogance could do its work in peace.

“Now, listen here,” concluded the Mitteler Rebbe. “You should know that Fear of Arrogance is Arrogance, who is Satan, who is the Angel of Death, who is the Serpent himself! Quickly, throw him out of your house, because your life is at risk!”

You can either be too arrogant or too humble, but excessive humility can be a disguise for “fear of arrogance.” That’s where I am or where I imagine myself to be, not just in relation to church but in relation to faith and trust in God, sitting on the edge of a razor blade, fearing to jump in one direction or the other. Even though I’m physically going to church, I’m not really being the church (is four weeks sufficient to be the church?).

Early Sunday morning, my parents should be leaving to return home, my daughter should be at work, I’m not sure of my wife’s schedule, but at 9:30 this morning, I should be sitting in church, trying to decide which of two pockets to reach into in order to pull out what I need at the moment.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Addendum: Keep in mind that any number of experiences will have occurred between when I wrote these words and how I think and feel by the time you read this. My next “meditation” could have a very different tone.

Losing My Faith in Religious People

Normally, I build my blog posts around one or two interesting or inspiring quotes I’ve found during my studies, but today there’s nothing that applies, or at least nothing that applies to how I feel. “Christian marketing” is fond of advertising “Christianity: It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” That’s bunk. It’s a religion. That’s not a bad thing, but as I read recently (albeit from a non-Christian source), “…This phrase sets up a classical logical fallacy, called a false dichotomy (more specifically, it’s black-and-white thinking, a sub-class of the false dichotomy)…The phrase implies that there are two choices. It’s either religion, or a relationship.”

There’s nothing wrong with a religion. I’ve said many times before (and I will again in tomorrow’s morning meditation) that religion is the interface by which we learn to understand God. Religion is the structure in which we comprehend the specifics of our faith, including how to interpret the Bible, the nature of prayer, and any traditions (yes, Christianity has traditions) and rituals that help us to operationalize and express our faithfulness behaviorally. The problem is, I’m losing my faith in religion.

Actually, I’m losing my faith in the human beings who are involved in religion. Well, no, not all of them. I have very high regard for most of the people I communicate with (primarily over the Internet) in the world of faith, but others can be a royal pain. Maybe it’s not their fault. I mean, we all have our moods, and our needs, and our insecurities. Whenever you add religion or “righteousness” to that mix though, you usually get something that’s bent and twisted just a little bit (and occasionally by quite a bit).

What started this rant? I was “rebuked” on an online social venue earlier today. You see, I have this thing about “experts” or maybe I have “authority issues.” It’s not that I don’t recognize and submit to authority. I have a job and I have a boss and what he says goes. There are religious authorities I respect and consider very knowledgable and wise, and I defer to their judgment. I know they know a whole lot more than I do, and more than I will probably ever know.

My problem is with the sort of person who really wants and needs to be called by a title, and who is continually telling everyone, “I’m an authority!” The interesting thing is, the person really is an authority and I can certainly recognize that, but by always saying “call me by such-and-thus title,” and “I’m an expert,” and “don’t question my judgment,” I keep getting the impression that they’ve got something to prove beyond their education and experience (I wouldn’t really care except I really do respect and like this person…otherwise, I’d just ignore him). I know that some people are insecure but not always for personality reasons. Sometimes, the person’s field of study, or where they got their education isn’t considered “mainstream,” and they aren’t always given the respect that is their due. In such cases, I suppose they need to compel the world around them to give them what they deserve.

But it still rubs me the wrong way. I’ve known too many people, particularly in the world of religion, who adopted roles, and titles, and authority that they certainly did not earn by education, experience, or temperament. They just “needed” to be a big shot and by inference, they needed everyone around them to be “little shots,” if that makes any sort of sense. So when someone who is genuine comes along and really has earned what they have, and they aren’t given respect by everyone around them, they have two choices: blow it off, or push back.

It’s the pushing back that bothers me. It’s the pushing back that seems to say, “I need to be big, and to meet my needs, you need to be little.” It’s the pushing back in a religious world where even the Master we all follow valued humility above blatant honors. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t deserve honors and it’s not like he doesn’t receive them. Yet the first time he was here, he set them aside, even to the degree that he washed the feet of his disciples. Even to the degree that he died for an unworthy humanity, including me.

The authorities who I have respected the most didn’t need to tell me they were in charge. They didn’t need to tell me to respect their knowledge. Just by being who they were, I learned to respect them. They didn’t have to make it a command. It’s ironic that people who God has given great gifts and who use those gifts in His Name, can still push back and push away those of us who are just trying to keep our heads above water. If the pushing keeps up, I’m going to be pushed out, and down, and I’ll drown in a sea of someone else’s religious authority and personal requirements.

I’m losing my faith in religion. I’m losing my faith in some of the people in religion. God is good, and great, and pure, but what human emotion does to faith and religion is anything but. It takes a great deal of energy to be patient sometimes and you know how lousy I am at keeping my (virtual) mouth shut. So I need to be able to push back as well, or let myself be pushed out of the body of faith altogether. I’m already isolated enough without someone, even a well-deserving someone, saying, “you’re not good enough.” I guess that’s what I hear when someone says, “I’m an authority,” or “you should respect me,” or “call me such-and-thus and not my first name.”

But as annoying as people like this are at times, they aren’t the real problem. I am (I suppose it always comes back to that). People like this are everywhere and sometimes they just can’t be avoided. They are in the world of religion and if I want to learn from them, I can’t avoid them…or I avoid them and avoid learning the lessons they are very good at teaching (the intentional lessons…not the unintentional one I’m talking about). Here’s what I need to learn:

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

-Robert Frost, American poet

I suppose if I had learned that lesson well, I wouldn’t be writing this “extra meditation.” I suppose if the “authority” had learned that lesson well, the event that triggered my unfortunate little missive would never have occurred. It’s not the first time I’ve wanted to push back and it won’t be the last. Maybe someday, I’ll start listening to Mr. Frost (who has my respect and my attention) and learn the lesson he teaches so well. Then I will be able to listen to almost anything…and I’ll still be fine.