Tag Archives: God

#ShoutYourAbortion and the Devaluing of Children

shout banner
Image found at Kickstarter

I’m going to get into a lot of trouble, at least in certain circles, for writing this, but it’s been bothering me for a while now and, as my long-time readers know, I process my thoughts and feelings by writing.

Believe it or not, back in the day, I used to be an agnostic/atheist and a Democrat. It seemed to be the default setting for most of the people I hung out with after High School (a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away). I didn’t think much about my politics or social opinions for a long time, and certainly didn’t do anything to challenge them.

Then I got married, and several years later, my wife became pregnant. Yes, we were at a stage in our lives when we wanted to start a family, so it was quite intentional. Like I imagine most pregnant couples to be, we immediately started bonding with our unborn baby (it wasn’t until about halfway through the pregnancy that we found out my wife was having twins).

Anyway, my wife started taking prenatal vitamins and otherwise doing whatever she could to make sure our baby was born healthy. We dabbled at picking out baby names, and as her due date got closer, began buying high chairs, car seats, a crib, decorating our children’s room (by then we knew there’d be two). We were drawing ever closer to our two sons even before they were born.

That’s what expectant parents do, right?

One day, on my commute to work, I passed by an abortion clinic. Maybe it was Planned Parenthood, I don’t remember. I know it was an abortion clinic because I saw people carrying signs outside protesting abortions. On other similar occasions in the past, I was mentally critical of the protesters, since I supported pro-choice, just like my politics said I should. I knew women who had abortions and as far as I could tell, the net effect was pretty benign. That wasn’t my only experience, but I’ll get to the others in a minute.

But on the occasion of driving past the protest, I thought about my pregnant wife, and I thought about how we felt about our unborn children. That set me off on a trajectory that would eventually lead me to make some life-altering decisions affecting my political/social outlook.

However, nearly ten years before that, I had worked at a Suicide Prevention hotline in Berkeley. I was on staff, hired to cover the midnight to 8 a.m. shift (since it was rare for a volunteer to want to work that late). Of course, I received all kinds of calls from insomniacs and such, plus we had our “regulars” who would call in (not everyone who phoned was actively suicidal).

However, some of the most heart-wrenching calls I took were from young women who had just had an abortion. This was the late 1970s and into the early 80s and Roe vs. Wade made abortions legal starting in 1973. These were women who were sobbing into the telephone, talking to a stranger in the middle of the night, pouring out their anguish because they had just killed their baby. That’s how they expressed it. I’m not putting words in anyone’s mouth.

I put those experiences all together over the subsequent years, did my research, and came to a single devastating conclusion: The only difference at all between a fetus and an unborn baby human being is whether the child is wanted or not.

That’s it.

My wife and I didn’t wait until some critical period in the gestation of our sons to start emotionally bonding with them, we began the minute we found out she was pregnant. My wife didn’t wait until some critical period in gestation to start taking prenatal vitamins, stop drinking alcohol (she’s never been a big drinker anyway) and doing everything in her power to make sure our unborn sons would be as healthy as possible, she began right away.

I’ve heard it said that in order for an otherwise sane and moral human being to be able to kill a person, their “enemy” has to be dehumanized. In other words, if the person you plan to kill isn’t considered human, then it’s easier in war, for example, to pull the trigger. Check out a number of World War Two propaganda posters. They depict Germans and Japanese in the most ghastly lights, as vicious killers and monsters. That’s what made it okay for American civilians to hate them, for our government to intern Japanese people in camps, and for soldiers to kill them in battle.

So a fetus is a potential human, but while that potential is unrealized, it’s okay to kill them. That’s pro-choice. The potential mommy’s body, her life, her attitudes, are all more important than her child’s life.

I know what some people are going to say. What about cases where a girl or woman becomes pregnant due to incest or rape?

According to “The New York Times” in a 1989 article (yes, it’s old, so the statistic has changed slightly), only One percent of abortions are performed because the girl or woman was a victim of those crimes. Only one percent. According to a 2011 article by Christian media group Focus on the Family, that figure had risen to 1.5%. So as of about seven or eight years ago, only 1.5% of all abortions nationwide were performed because of incest or rape. So much for that straw man argument.

But what about other reasons? Why do women get abortions? Yes, because the pregnancy is unwanted, but what are the specifics?

According to a 2005 paper published by the Guttmacher Institute and cited in Table 2 of their paper, the primary reasons in descending order are:

  1. Having a baby would dramatically change my life interfering with education, job/career, other children/dependents
  2. Can’t afford a baby now due to being unmarried, unemployed, or for reasons of poverty
  3. Don’t want to be a single mother or am having relationship problems
  4. Have completed my childbearing and don’t want additional children

You can click the links I provided to read the entire table for the full list of reasons, but these are the major ones.

According to Very Well Health, the most common reason women have abortions has to do with finances. Specifically, 40% of women are financially unprepared to have a baby, and this includes conditions of poverty and being on public assistance.

Depending on your perspective, poverty/finances might be a valid reason to have an abortion should a woman unintentionally become pregnant. After all, what costs more, an abortion or raising a child from infancy to age eighteen? It’s a tough argument to counter. On the other hand, it sounds like there’s a justification of ending a human life just because that person is poor. It has some horrible implications if you start applying the principle to people who have already been born. No, it’s not that pro-choice people are actively promoting murder of a born person, even a newly born infant, but where do you draw the line between late-term abortion and killing a viable child?

That question deserves further consideration. Toward the end of my wife’s pregnancy with our sons, she developed pre-eclampsia and had to be hospitalized until she gave birth. This was at Long Beach (California) Memorial Hospital which, at the time at least, had one of the best neonatal ICUs in the nation. I saw prematurely born babies, some as young as 20 weeks gestation, all struggling to stay alive, their parents in horrible anguish and heartbreak.

I know that by most standards, 20 weeks gestation (though some authorities go as young as 16 weeks) is the cut off point for late-term abortions. There may be some pro-abortion pro-choice advocates who would be okay with aborting a baby at 21 weeks, 22, 25, or 30, but I’m not sure about that. All I know is what I witnessed was another reason I believe the only difference between a fetus (which you can abort) and an unborn baby (which you can’t because it would be unthinkable), is whether or not the child is wanted. That’s the ONLY reason based on my experiences.

Some weeks ago, I watched a video of conservative political commentator, writer, attorney, and Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro explaining why an unborn baby is not “a ball of goo.” You can watch it at LifeNews.com and read the accompanying article, but Ben’s argument is devastating.

Okay, so why am I writing this all right now (as opposed to last year, or next year, or never)? Because I read this today.

shout
Screenshot from twitter

Regardless of where you land on the abortion debate, what person in their right mind forces their own abortion experience on children? She even tells children that having an abortion is part of God’s plan, like going to the dentist.

When I was a kid, I knew women became pregnant and had babies, but in my wildest imagination, I had no clue those pregnancies could be (at that time, illegally) terminated. I’m pretty sure my children didn’t grow up with that knowledge, at least before Junior or Senior High. I don’t know what my almost ten-year-old grandson knows, and to a high degree of confidence, I’m absolutely sure my three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter doesn’t have a clue.

Amelia Bonow and several other activists created the #ShoutYourAbortion movement, hashtag included. I guess she thought the other abortion advocates didn’t take it far enough, so in addition to just having abortions be legal, she wants women to be proud of them. Heck infamous popular celebrity Lena Dunham has gone on record saying she wishes she had an abortion. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren compares abortion to having your tonsils removed. I don’t know if she’s ever had an abortion, but I do know she has two (adult age) children.

And who the heck would actually produce a book for children on abortion? My son, the father of my grandchildren, has similar political and social attitudes to my own (he’s actually a lot more conservative) and I’m sure he’ll agree that it’s a book my grandkids will never read, not until they’re old enough to buy it themselves or check it out from the library.

For crying out loud, let children BE children. You really don’t have to drag them into some of the messiness that goes along with being an adult. Honest. Stop it!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about parenting and abortions. If you’ve never parented, maybe it’s easier to have an abortion, because you haven’t let yourself go through the experience of bonding with an unborn (and later born) child. But what if you’ve had children? You know what it feels like to grow close, to cherish, to nurture an unborn life. How can you simply turn around after having those profound experiences and have an abortion as if you were flipping off a light switch?

Oh, but there’s more.

You may or may not be aware of an eleven-year-old boy named Desmond Napoles, also known as Desmond is Amazing (and if you click that last link, yeah…that’s a boy).

NBC recently promoted Napoles, in part, because he was featured cross-dressing and performing at a Gay club, with adult men waving money at him as if he were a stripper. I don’t know about you, but I consider that outrageous, and I can’t imagine why his parents allow such insanity.

Supposedly, he’s starting a dating website for trans children as well as a drag club for children.

Yes, I know this is an extreme example of poor parenting decisions, and you’re probably wondering what this has to do with abortion.

It has to do with objectifying and hypersexualizing young children. I mean, if a child means so little to you in the womb that you not only abort that child, but #ShoutYourAbortion to the world, including to children as young as little Desmond, how much can kids in general really mean in today’s progressive society (okay, so there are probably tons of progressive parents who love and cherish their children, but to the degree that all this other stuff is happening, there’s a problem)?

I know the counter-argument is that some conservative and religious parents do harm to their children as well, and I’m sure that’s true, but it doesn’t make any of the points I’ve established in this blog post less valid.

desmond 8
Desmond Napoles at age 8 -whose dancing drew joyous applause from the crowd at Sunday’s New York City Pride March. (Photo: Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

Something has changed in our world when women are told that having an abortion is not only a good thing, but a valid, right, and moral thing to achieve, no more harmful than going to the dentist or having your tonsils removed, and all part of God’s eternal plan for the salvation of the world. Something is horribly wrong when an eleven-year-old boy performs in drag in front of a bunch of men in a gay nightclub. Something is horribly wrong in our world, when that boy then performs on a major network (NBC) television show and is praised for being (in my opinion) sexually exploited, and millions of people in the audience think it’s okay.

It is not okay. How younger people are being programmed to believe ending a human life and sexually exploiting young boys is not okay.

Parents and grandparents and all the other caretakers of children out there, please protect your kids. Don’t let the culture corrupt and destroy them. If this is what morality looks like when progressives and atheists believe they are the highest moral and ethical force in the universe, I don’t think you have to look too far to figure out why I prefer that a perfect and Holy God is my moral compass.

Oh, for more, read the article The Problem With “The Kids Meet Someone Who Had An Abortion” Video.

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There Are Good Men in the World

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Found at AOL.com – photo credit unavailable

Bigotry is bad – no matter who the victim.

When it comes to racism, America has made it clear that prejudice based on color cannot be tolerated. Roseanne Barr destroyed her career with just one racist twitter and had to be removed from her own show for the transgression of an offensive comment.

Equality is in; demeaning stereotyping is not only out but seemingly bad enough to be deemed unforgivable.

Except when one group is the target.

Who are these terrible people exempt from the sin of stereotyping?

They are men…

-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Hating Men: The New Racism

Yes, I am deliberately writing this in the shadow of Judge Brett Kavanaugh being sworn in late yesterday as the newest Supreme Court Justice. This, of course, followed incredibly contentious confirmation hearings where both sides of the aisle pulled out all the stops in either trying to push through confirming Kavanaugh, or utterly destroying his reputation.

I’m not going to get into all of that. I’ve already written extensively about the Kavanaugh confirmation process HERE, HERE, and HERE.

I want to write about what we can expect next, which is the topic of Rabbi Blech’s essay: misandry, which is:

Noun – Definition of misandry: a hatred of men

Before anyone says it, yes, men have committed terrible, terrible acts against women and children across human history and into the current age. For example, there’s a huge surge in child trafficking in Africa and:

over two million people are trafficked annually, and of this number there is an estimated 30 000 children as young as 4, who are being prostituted in South Africa.

Stories about child abuse are rampant, including a recent story from Ireland about a two-week-old baby hospitalized after being sexually assaulted by a 25-year-old man.

Looking at rape statistics in the United States:

A 2013 study found that rape may be grossly underreported in the United States. Furthermore, a 2014 study suggested that police departments may eliminate or undercount rapes from official records in part to “create the illusion of success in fighting violent crime”. Based on the available data, 21.8% of American rapes of female victims are gang rapes. For the last reported year, 2013, the prevalence rate for all sexual assaults including rape was 0.1% (prevalence represents the number of victims, rather than the number of assaults since some are victimized more than once during the reporting period). The survey included males and females aged 12+. Since rapes are a subset of all sexual assaults, the prevalence of rape is lower than the combined statistic. Of those assaults, the Bureau of Justice Statistics stated that 34.8% were reported to the police, up from 29.3% in 2004.

Given the quote above, we may not have a very accurate picture of how many girls and woman have been raped based on victims not reporting as well as police departments apparently gaming their numbers. This may be why we see such a surge of “believe the victims” statements coming from the #MeToo movement and wider feminism. In fact, going back to the Kavanaugh hearings, once there was a disclosure from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleging that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her approximately 35 years ago, those who had been protesting against Kavanaugh for his perceived stand on Roe vs. Wade and other topics, focused on his guilt as a sexual abuser. From what I could see in the news, many woman projected their own victimization upon Kavanaugh, and now that he’s been confirmed, no doubt they will believe that Republicans in the Senate (and probably in the general public) all tacitly approve of sexual violence against woman.

So we have a perfect storm from which to accuse all men everywhere of participating in rape culture which must be battled at all costs, including violent protests.

I agree that sexual assault must be battled and the perpetrators arrested, tried, and if convicted, incarcerated to the maximum penalty allowed by law (and I think those penalties should be severe), but is it true that all men are evil?

yelling
Found at The Irish Times – no photo credit available

No, but is it true that all men are, if not overt sexual offenders, covertly supportive of the subordination of women, especially as related to the sexual act?

That’s like asking if all white males in America tacitly approve of racism because of their white privilege, simply because we were all raised in a culture that is systematically racist.

It’s a tough one to crack.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

Genesis 2:18-22 (NASB)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.

Ephesians 5:25-30 (NASB)

I’m not going to do an exhaustive search of what the Bible has to say about male-female relationships, but given these two examples, it seems that men and women are literally made for each other, and intended to work together cooperatively within the context of marriage. Further, men are expected to sacrifice themselves to protect their wives (and children), even unto death.

Do you know any men who fit that description? I do, plenty of them. They don’t make the news because men loving their wives and children, providing for them, and protecting them isn’t sensational, and it doesn’t rile people up.

In his article, Rabbi Blech quotes a number of feminist sources saying some pretty rough things about men such as:

“I want to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp with a high-heel shoved in his mouth, like an apple in the mouth of a pig.” -Andrea Dworkin

and

“All sex, even consensual sex between a married couple, is an act of violence perpetrated against a woman.” -Catherine MacKinnon

I haven’t researched the contexts for those statements, and perhaps their original contexts modify them, but you have to admit, on the surface, they seem pretty raw.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, I expect to see plenty of misandry in the news and social media, specifically because of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

What I hope people consider, and especially those who think the Kavanaugh confirmation equals “all men are scum” (although I found this article from last July encouraging), is that you’ll take some time to think of the men who are or were in your life who aren’t or weren’t scum, and in fact, who are or were really supportive.

Maybe it was your Dad, an Uncle, or Grandpa. It could have been a teacher, a neighbor, a bus driver. If national attention has become a raw nerve in terms of Kavanaugh in specific and men in general, it’s important to remember the other side of the coin. Men, from God’s point of view, were not intended to victimize women, we are intended to protect and nurture women, including from men who would harm them.

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Man rescuing a woman and child after Hurricane Harvey – photo credit unavailable

One of my Facebook (and in real life) friends posted a lengthy quote about a week and a half ago:

Men ask why women are so pissed off. Even guys with wives and daughters. Jackson Katz, a prominent social researcher, illustrates why. He’s done it with hundreds of audiences:

“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.

Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

Then I ask the women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine.

Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”

― Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

(The first man to minor in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. in cultural studies and education from UCLA.)

It bothered me, but it took a while for me to figure out why. One man responded thus:

Funny, he never asked what men do to protect their wives and daughters from assault. Let alone the neverending worry that comes with the weight of responsibility of being the protector of the family. Men aren’t heartless mongrels. Unfortunately, they don’t teach that fact in women’s studies.

This is a portion of my response:

This bothered me a lot when I first read it, but I couldn’t figure out why. Then, last night, I had a nightmare about two people trying to take my grandson from me. Even though I stopped it in my dream, I still work up horrified.

I realized the question you ask men isn’t what they do to protect themselves, but what they do to protect their families, because after all, that’s our role, at least once we marry, and especially once we have children, and in my case, grandchildren.

Also, this wee missive assumes there is only one kind of assault, sexual assault. In fact, men, women, and children are subject to all manner of physical assault.

grandpa
Found at Care.com – photo credit unavailable

Know that if there are some men in the world who are dangerous to women and children, there are also plenty of us who are not, and in fact, who are dedicated to protecting our families. I hope you know a man like that. If you do, and if he’s around, you might want to talk with him for a while today and remind yourself that men can be good, too.

Faith and Hope Without Torah

How can we find and hold onto joy in this world without it slipping out of our hands? The holiday of Simchat Torah provides an answer. As we dance with the Torah, we bask in the unique, eternal happiness that only Torah can bring into our lives. “It is a tree of life for those who grasp it” (Proverbs 3:18).

-from “Holding onto Joy: Celebrating Simchat Torah”
Sara Debbie Gutfreund
Aish.com

Simchat TorahI don’t suppose this will be much different from many other posts I’ve authored before, but every so often, I just need to say something here.

I’ve spent this season pretty much ignoring the High Holy Days. I didn’t even build our Sukkah this year. My wife (who is Jewish) didn’t seem to have any interest, and since I’m not Jewish, it seemed at least a bit presumptuous for me, a Goy, to construct a Sukkah when my Jewish wife was unconcerned. In fact, she left town last Monday and will be coming home tonight, so she would have missed out on much of the festival anyway.

Now that the holidays are over including Sukkot, I experience a sort of relief. I don’t have to concern myself with what I should or shouldn’t do as a “Judaically-aware Gentile believer” or whatever you want to call me.

Well, they’re not quite over yet. Simchat Torah begins at sundown tonight and ends on Erev Shabbat. Oy.

Depending on who you talk to, Gentiles and especially Christians have no part in the Torah. Oh sure, I’ve heard some “Messianic Gentiles” discuss an application of Torah or some small subset that applies to us, but really the key to understanding what’s supposed to apply to us can be found in Acts 15. Maybe the Didache has applications for us and maybe it doesn’t, but it doesn’t give us a share in the Sinai Covenant.

So what do we have?

According to Gutfreund’s article, there are five ways the Torah brings joy to the Jewish person:

  1. It gives then higher goals
  2. It shows them how to be grateful
  3. It teaches them hope
  4. It connects them
  5. It gives them flow

As I said above, it’s my opinion that Gentile believers can’t claim the Sinai Covenant and thus we can’t claim the Torah, so what do we have?

To paraphrase Paul in one of his epistles (Romans 3:2) “Much in every way.”

Though we have no direct covenant relationship with God, He has determined that He will love us anyway and, through His mercy and grace, has allowed us to partake in the blessings of the New Covenant through our faithfulness and devotion to Rav Yeshua (and conversely by the merit of Rav Yeshua’s faithfulness to Hashem).

I know it’s been said that before Abraham, there were no Jews, so the Gentiles must always have been part of God’s plan for redemption. It’s not that simple. Before Abraham, there was no distinction between a covenant and non-covenant people. Once there was Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses, the whole playing field changed. God made a decision (well, He’d always has made, is making, and will always make that decision). He chose a people unto Himself, a special people separated to Him from the nations of the Earth.

Sucks to be the nations, huh?

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

This could be interpreted as including the Gentile and thus expressing God’s desire that we should not perish either.

So if we don’t have the Torah, do we have higher goals, the ability to be grateful, hope, connection, and “flow?”

Let’s take that last one first. What is “flow?”

Our happiest moments occur when we are in the “flow,” completely engaged and absorbed by an activity we are doing. We transcend our physical and emotional limitations by immersing ourselves in the energy of the moment. Torah gives us this sense of flow when we are doing a mitzvah that is challenging for us but within our grasps. We visit the sick even when hospitals make us nervous. We invite the widow from across the street to Shabbos dinner even though we aren’t in the mood for guests. We give tzedakah even though we are anxious about our finances. We choose to overcome a limitation inside of us and move forward even when we have to push ourselves to do so.

-Gutfreund (ibid)

It’s not like a Gentile believer can’t perform mitzvot, it’s just many to most of the Torah mitzvot don’t apply to us. However, I would argue, generally doing good certainly does apply to us. We can visit the sick, comfort the widow, show kindness to the orphan, give to charity, and many other things that would give us a “flow.”

Certainly, faith in God through Rav Yeshua can give us higher goals. After all, believers, Jewish and Gentile, ideally live transformed lives, lives where we are not the same people we were before becoming devoted to Hashem.

Even more than the Jews, we Gentiles should be grateful. After all, every single Jew on Earth is born automatically into a covenant relationship with God. We’re not. We have to become aware of Hashem, of Yeshua, and we have to make and then implement a choice. However, it is an avenue that Hashem has specifically created for us so that even the nations can serve Him. If you’re not grateful for that, you’ve got a problem.

That leads to hope. Without Rav Yeshua we were without hope. In fact, we didn’t even know we were without hope.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:11-13 (NASB)

King DavidOur hope is in him, hope in being reconciled with God, hope in the resurrection and a life in the world to come, hope in being better human beings, in being servants to the one true God.

Connection. Oh well, there always has to be a fly in the ointment, at least for me. Belonging and connection implies community. Actually, community is possible and likely for most religious Jews and believing Christians, but as my conversation with my co-worker earlier today illustrated for me again, I don’t belong in the Christian world.

He’s a nice guy. I like him. He’s a self-admitted “redneck,” and an Evangelical. I’ve tried and tried to avoid religious conversations with him, but he sent me a poem he wrote, and then a prayer he wrote, so finally I decided to lay my cards on the table and emailed him the link to Hurtado on the “Conversion” of Paul (and he’s lucky I didn’t send him Christianity Drives Me Crazy).

He actually laughed while reading it. He said that he was only interested in what the Bible said and laughed again when I told him the Bible was interpretable. He actually believes you can read the KJV Bible and that’s all you need to have a perfect understanding of the full and complete message of God (or at least enough of it to merit personal salvation).

We went back and forth for a while. He finally said that not everyone is called to be a theologian. I explained that I wasn’t a theologian or at best, I’m an interested amateur.

I was sort of hoping he’d let it go, but he sent me an essay he wrote on the nature of love (though it was critical of Barack Obama and political and social liberals).

To his credit, he did read through my commentary on Hurtado and is still occasionally peppering his dialogue with statements on some “testimony” he recently heard.

Yeah. I have about as much connection with all that as a cat at a dog convention.

Oh well, you can’t have everything, and four out of five ain’t bad.

Besides, while we Gentiles may have no claim to the Torah, we do still have the benefits Gutfreund outlined through our devotion to our Rav, and by his merit we have our hope.

For more on Sukkot and Simchat Torah, see Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’s commentary on Genesis 1:1-6:8, The Faith of God.

Living a Life

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of being a Christian or a Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua, or whatever you want to call me.

My life has taken a downturn recently, specifically since April. I was laid off of my job of eight years, basically because the company and my job description had changed so radically that I was no longer an adequate “fit”.

dad
© James Pyles

Then my Dad died abruptly, and it was fortunate that I happened to be visiting my folks at the time to be able to support my Mom.

So far the only job I’ve been able to get is temporary contract work for significantly less than I was previously paid and absolutely no benefits.

I’ve been trying for the past couple of months to get medical insurance through the local version of “Obamacare” (Affordable Care Act) and getting the run around. I received yet another encrypted email from them when I got home from work today that was probably prompted by my zillionth phone call to them this morning. I suspect they are about to reject, for some arcane reason, the document I submitted proving I’ve been without medical coverage since July 1st.

And to add insult to injury, I’m fined by the Federal Government every month I’m not insured, even though I’m trying as hard as I can to purchase coverage.

What does all this have with God, faith, and religion?

It has to do with life and how we live it, and more specifically, how I live it.

I’ll admit that I’m better at the study of the Bible then actually living out its principles. I suspect that my life has been going downhill because God is trying to get my attention. He wants something out of me. He wants me to live a better life, but it’s not that simple.

God doesn’t make deals. He doesn’t say, “If you do this thing for me, I’ll make your life better and you and your wife will get health insurance coverage.”

How do I know this? Because tons and tons and tons of believers of great and wonderful faith live terribly dangerous and difficult lives. Just look at the Apostles. Except for John, they all were executed in one way or another, and even John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil, though amazingly he lived.

That’s been my sticking point. If you trust in God with all your heart and soul, there’s still no promise that you’ll escape pain and suffering. There’s no promise that if I trust God with all my heart and soul, that I’ll be able to provide my wife and myself medical insurance let alone a better income.

I mean God could do that, but obviously He doesn’t have to.

On the other hand, if I ignore what I think God wants me to do (love and trust Him completely), then I can hardly expect He will turn my life around or provide opportunities for me to improve my condition.

No I’m not writing this just to whine (well, maybe just a little). I’m writing this to speak to the question of Gentile praxis in a Messianic world (or at least a Messianic thought and study world since I don’t have that kind of praxis or community).

In the closed Facebook group “Messianic Gentiles,” First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) writer and teacher Toby Janicki has been sharing a number of articles on their particular publication of the Didache, which may or may not have originated with the Apostles or their students. It’s an attempt to answer the question of what is Gentile praxis within (Messianic) Judaism.

I certainly won’t discourage anyone from reading and pursuing that particular model of religious practice, and indeed, I’ve written on the Didache myself.

But it seems to me that all of us have our hands full anyway, not with the rituals of praxis but with day-to-day living.

I mean, how close to or far from God do you feel? How often do you read the Bible? How often do you pray? How often do you pray and don’t feel like you’re just taking to yourself and the four walls? Are you kind to others even when you don’t feel like it? Do you yell at the person who cuts you off when you’re driving to work? Given the terrible things that are happening in Huston thanks to Hurricane Harvey, what have you done to offer aid and assistance? Do you give to others in need in your local community?

huston
David J. Phillip/AP

These aren’t questions I’m asking you, they’re questions I’m asking myself.

A life of faith is no life at all if it isn’t lived, but frankly, living that life isn’t easy.

I’ve been trying to listen to Christian radio again (mainly because there’s no such thing as Messianic Jewish/Gentile radio, at least nothing that is freely available over the airwaves). I’m having a hard time with it.

Air1 at least has more modern pop songs, but it’s also marketing to the younger crowd, and it can be terribly juvenile and even shallow. On the other hand, they have mentioned their concern for the people of Huston, and I learned about Convoy of Hope from them.

I’ve tried listening to a couple of local Christian stations.

I have a tough time with the more traditional Christian songs and hymns. I had the same problem when I was attending church. The people who’ve grown up in the church have a great deal of emotional and nostalgic attachment to those tunes, but to me, they are terribly archaic and boring.

The Christian station where people talk drives me nuts. I guess this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and I was listening to these two Pastors who were fairly gushing over Martin Luther. I can’t stand Martin Luther because of the Anti-Semitism he displayed toward the end of his life. This is on top of these so-called “reformers” not taking their reform back far enough in history so they could re-discover the deep connection Gentile believers have to a Jewish perspective on Hashem and Rav Yeshua.

Those “reformers” just changed things enough to object to some of the greater abuses of the Catholic church as it existed at that time. They kept all the stuff that deleted the Judaism out of an originally Jewish faith, and kept all the stuff that put Gentiles and only Gentiles at the top of the religious food chain.

Yeah, that works for me.

But I’ve got to do something differently, even if it drives me nuts. Frankly, I suspect there are a lot of non-Jewish but Judaically aware believers who are also scrambling to make sense of their/our lives. My point isn’t that the hard part of it all is being “Judaically aware,” the hard part is what’s hard for every Christian in churches and home fellowships all over the place.

The hard part is conforming our lives, our faith, and our actions to the desires of God. The hard part is to be a better person, even when it seems impossible. The hard part is to be a better person, even when God doesn’t promise to do anything for you in return.

This isn’t about where you go when you die, which is the shallow and simple-minded version of the “good news”. This is about who you are and what you do right here and now in this life. This is the “Gospel message” you absolutely won’t hear on Christian radio ever, and a message you won’t hear in many if not most churches.

jfk
President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” (and he’d be appalled if he were alive today and could see the nature of the younger generation coming up and what they want).

But what if he asked works in a relationship with God, too?

“Ask not what God can do for you. Ask what you can do for God.”

Really, if responding to that doesn’t take up 100% of your time, I don’t know what will. Frankly, the prospect scares me to death, but at the same time, I can’t fault it, since this is what the Bible speaks of regarding our service to God and our fellow human beings.

I suspect, even if nothing else changes in my life, my response, if I choose to sincerely make true Teshuvah, will occupy every day I have remaining in this life.

Faith on a Desert Island

clouds
© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Every time I see something about being a Christian in community, or a Jew in community, or especially a non-Jew in (Messianic) Jewish community, I start thinking about those of us who, for one reason or another, aren’t in community.

Many years ago, I listened to a “Messianic Jewish luminary” denigrate Gentiles who were isolated from community, and he had a point. A lot of non-Jews who have left the traditional Church for one reason or another, possess rather “fringy” theologies, and often are considered “religious nuts”. These are the kinds of people who believe faith can cure any ill, and who wouldn’t take their kid to a doctor even if he were having a heart attack. People who think taking an aspirin is a mortal sin.

But there are plenty of reasons to be disenfranchised or unaffiliated besides being mentally ill or having cult leanings.

For anyone with a “Messianic” perspective, it may be a matter of not having an appropriate venue within driving distance. In my case, it’s a little more complicated, being a Gentile believer married to a (non-Messianic) Jew.

But the most common reason we experience is that we’ve been burned, not just by the Church, but by Messianic Judaism as well.

Not to overstate the point, but Gentiles in Messianic Jewish space have traditionally been a problem, and some of us, who don’t want to be a problem, solve it by simply not showing up.

So what happens then?

Over the past few months, I’ve been satisfying my more “creative writing” desires by becoming involved in “flash fiction challenges” of various sorts. The idea is that someone posts a photo online and authors use it as an inspiration to write a very short story, anything between about 100 and 250 words. We then share our work with one another and comment.

In response to one of those challenges, I wrote The Listener.

As I finished writing it and was editing, I realized the message I was communicating was literally true of me. Various difficulties in my personal life, as well as just plain “busyness,” had resulted in my leaving the vast majority of my “religious practice” behind.

The result, among other things, was a massive piling up of anxiety and hopelessness. If God lets little kids starve all over the world, why should He care if my grandchildren are having problems? What’s the use of praying? God either knows they’re hurting and will have compassion or He won’t.

As many pundits have previously warned me, it’s hard maintaining faith outside of community, and there’s the rub.

Technically, all I should need is God, but in the history of Judaism and Christianity, at least relative to the Bible, faith has always been communal. Okay, Paul spent plenty of time alone, but he always came back (at least until he was shipped off to Rome).

I’m alone because my attending Church or anything “church-like” (such as a Messianic community) hurts my wife.

I’m alone because I’ve been burned, and more than once.

I’m alone because even if there were an appropriate community, and even if my wife didn’t mind, I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut, and 100% of the time, opening my mouth eventually ends up with me offending someone.

The religious blogosphere has been pretty peaceful lately, and I suspect that’s because the trolls and nudniks have moved on to something else, but real life is a wild west show.

We may wander away from each other, but while we can keep God at a distance, He’s always close enough to touch. He doesn’t fail. He doesn’t burn you.

Sure, He’s also incredibly hard to understand and, if you have trust issues, it’s still hard to believe everything will work out in the end, especially when kids all over the world are starved, beaten, raped, burned, and otherwise assaulted and abused on a daily basis.

I’ve got to get back. Not sure how, since a lot of my praxis is based on time I no longer have.

I feel more connected when I read/study the Bible. I feel more connected when I pray. I feel more connected when I take a deep breath and reach out to His Presence.

I feel more connected when I write here.

A lot of “religious people” can and probably will be critical of me. Fortunately, God isn’t a person. He’s always ready to welcome the prodigal son home.

Where is God When We Need a Miracle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But so what?

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

I suppose He could.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jewish charity
Photo: Reuters

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

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