Tag Archives: hostility

Throwing Stones

jacobs-wellDo not throw a stone into the well from which you drank.

-Bava Kama 92b

The Talmud states that this folk saying is related to the Torah commandment, “Do not reject an Egyptian, because you were a dweller in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8). Since Egypt hosted the Israelites, we, their descendants, must acknowledge our gratitude.

The brief period of tranquility that our ancestors enjoyed in Egypt was followed by decades of ruthless enslavement and brutal oppression. Thousands of newborn Israelite children were murdered. This unspeakable horror more than obscured any favorable treatment they had received earlier, and our natural inclination is to despise the Egyptians with a passion.

The Torah tells us to take a different path. Although we celebrate, every Passover, our liberation from this tyrannical enslavement and commemorate the triumph over our oppressors, we have no right to deny that we did receive some benefit from them. Even though a denial of gratitude might appear well justified in this particular case, it might impact upon us in such a manner that we might also deny gratitude when it is fully deserved.

If people cast stones into the well from which they drank, the well will not be hurt in the least, because it is an inanimate and insensitive object. The act, however, might impact negatively upon those who do it: they might subsequently behave with a lack of gratitude to people as well.

Today I shall…

…try to remember to be considerate of anyone who has any time been of help to me, even though his later actions might have been hostile.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 10”

Over the past week or two in my blogs, I’ve had encounters with a few people who you could consider hostile or at least ill-mannered. This, in spite of what I’ve been trying to accomplish by refraining from participating in so many other online encounters. As Rabbi Zelig Pliskin says, “Why don’t people like to remain silent when others insult them? Because they’re afraid that others might think they’re weak and unable to answer back.” But as he also says, “The truth is, it takes much greater strength to remain silent when someone insults you. Revenge, on the other hand, is a sign of weakness. A revenger lacks the necessary strength of character to forgive.”

I strive to learn how to be better at forgiving, even when others may not realize they have caused harm or offense (and it’s not like I’m blameless, either).

Then I encountered Rabbi Twerski’s commentary for yesterday and it occurred to me that many of us have been “throwing stones in the well from which we drank.”

Yesterday, both Derek Leman and I wrote about the vital importance of Jewish Torah observance, particularly for those Jews who have become followers and disciples of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. In some manner or fashion across the long centuries after the destruction of Herod’s Temple, we in the church have been throwing pebbles, and rocks, and boulders, and monolithic asteroid-sized chunks of granite into “the well from which we have all drank.”

We’ve been making a mockery of what Paul was trying to tell us.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated 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 once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22 (ESV)

tearing-down-the-wallI know I’m going to be accused of misusing this part of scripture, which is often used to confirm the destruction of the Law and the elimination of any unique Jewish identity in the body of the Messiah, but it all hinges on what sort of “dividing wall of hostility” was brought down and what exactly was the “law of commandments expressed in ordinances” that was abolished. It makes a lot of Christians (including those in the usual variants of the Hebrew Roots movement) feel “hunky dory” to believe that it was the uniqueness of Judaism that Jesus “nailed to the cross” along with his battered, bloody body. Even those Christians who agree that the Law is intact and it was only Judaism that died, agree to the elimination of what it is to be Jewish by redefining the sign commandments of the Torah as not Jewish any longer but belonging to anyone and everyone who claims them.

(And I must say at this point that a great deal of what we also call “Torah” is perfectly accessible to Jews and Christians alike).

I’m sure that when non-Jews claim Jewish sign commandments as their very own, it must feel “hostile” to the Jewish people who would prefer to keep their identities intact.

Back in Acts 15 the problem faced by the Council of Apostles was how to establish and implement “Gentile inclusion” into the body of the Jewish Messiah. For most of the history of the church, the problem reversed itself and was considered how do we establish and implement “Jewish inclusion” into the Christian church? In the latter case, it was by requiring the Jews surrender every last vestige of what it is to be a Jew. However James and the Council made no such requirement of the Gentiles in the former situation, though to be sure, the Gentile disciples had to give something up. But it wasn’t their identity as such, otherwise there would be no “Gentiles called by the Messiah’s name,” only Jews. The Gentiles were included, and ancient “Christianity” became one of the most inclusive religious movements on the planet, because one did not have to covert to Judaism and accept the obligation of the total yoke of Torah in order to join.

But as I’ve said in many conversations recently, I don’t think the relationship between the Jewish and Gentile disciples in those early days ever reached any sort of stability. There wasn’t time. Events such as the Jewish exile from Israel and the Bar Koshba revolt came and went too quickly on the stage of time, and once played out, the result was a separation between the Jews, and the Gentiles who wrested observance and worship of the Moshiach from the Jewish people for nearly twenty centuries.

But all that is beginning to change. What stands in the way is that across all of the long years, the “dividing wall of hostility” has been rebuilt with a vengeance and it is tall and thick and wide and hard. The people on both sides of the wall have built it up and the people on both sides of the wall have been heavily invested in keeping it standing. Good fences make good neighbors as Robert Frost once wrote.

Rabbi Twerski is determined to “remember to be considerate of anyone who has any time been of help to me, even though his later actions might have been hostile.” That certainly describes what we Christians should say of Israel who gave us the Messiah but later was hostile to us because we tried to sell them a “Goyishe King.”

But I’d like to reverse that saying for us. The Master said “salvation comes from the Jews,” (John 4:22) and that statement is the crystallization of Israel’s mission to be a light to the world (Isaiah 49:6). Without Israel and without Israel’s first-born son, Yeshua HaMoshiach, Jesus the Christ, none of us could be saved. But since the time when salvation entered into the world in the body of a man and as the flesh and blood expression of the Divine, much enmity has built up between Israel and the Christianity that resulted from her light. A few Christians and a few believing Jews are finally beginning to breach the wall of hostility and extend friendship and brotherhood to one another, as it was in days of old. I can’t speak for the Jews in Messiah, but as a Christian…

unityToday I shall…

…try to remember to set aside any hostility I may have expressed to either a Jewish person or a Christian because of the struggle in which we are engaged in removing the barriers between us, and realize that though we may not always see things in the same way, we are striving toward the same goal, achieving unity in the body of Messiah so that God may once again dwell among the peoples called by His Name.

Before embarking on a journey from your place of residence, arrange a Chassidic farbrengen and receive a parting blessing from your good friends, and as the familiar expression goes: Chassidim never say farewell, for they never depart from each other. Wherever they are, they are one family.

-“Today’s Day”
Monday, 10 Adar 1, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Where your thoughts are, there you are, all of you.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“All of You”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

May we all work to bring unity and peace among ourselves as believers, and with all humanity, through the Master and Savior of the world, Christ Jesus our Lord.

26 Days: Are You Waiting For Me to Leave?

leavingHow many days you have left, and how many more article can you milk from the dry turnip?

-A comment to me on one of my recent blog posts

A person who is serious about self-improvement will be grateful to anyone who points out his faults! (Whereas a person who does not have a strong desire for self-improvement will deny that he has any faults – even those which are blatant.)

Utilize the criticism of others as an opportunity for introspection.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #1123, Accepting Criticism”

It’s just amazing how people will address you when the Internet stands between the two of you. I’ve written before about how rude people tend to be when communicating on the web, and how (in all likelihood) they’d be a tad bit more civil if they had to talk with you face-to-face.

I started the “Days” series in part because of my internal response to Internet “crankiness.” After all, who wants to put up with a collection of people who continually complain at you (me) because you won’t fully endorse their opinions on a topic you have in common? Not me. Of course, there are some folks who say that it’s not “crankiness” or complaining that motivates them, but rather the use of “challenging discourse” as a method of learning. I set aside that particular excuse for rudeness awhile ago.

But my critic hit the nail on the head. I have 26 days left in my self-imposed countdown. Do I disappear then to avoid the “challenges” of “crankiness” on the Internet?

On the one hand, life would be a little more calm without the continual “noise” of social networking, but amid the noise, there’s occasional “signal” that is beneficial. Should I put up with those who have a particularly low signal to noise ratio because I benefit from others who possess a much higher ratio? Is it worth it?

On the other hand, I don’t like being pushed around and I don’t like bullies. If someone doesn’t like the content I generate, they don’t have to visit my blog. I’ve stopped visiting the blogs and websites of nudniks because it was foolish of me to engage people who would only talk at me and never listen. Disagreement is fine and I can certainly live with it. Hostility for its own sake I can live without.

There are people who do gracefully criticize me when I get things wrong, and as stinging as it can be, I actually appreciate it. On the other hand, these are people who can bring such matters to my attention without behaving as if my error or ignorance has personally insulted them. I’m finding that’s a rare and special gift among human beings.

If someone is critical of you in a harsh tone of voice, try telling them the following:

“I appreciate your strong feelings about the matter, but I would appreciate the comments more if they were expressed more pleasantly.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #304, Soften Criticism”

I don’t like to “call out” individuals on my blog. It’s happened to me on numerous occasions on more than one blog and I find it ungracious and offensive. On the other hand, I couldn’t illustrate my point without quoting what one of my critics said to me earlier, so to my critic, I apologize if I caused you embarrassment. I really do just want to point out that if your criticism of me is out of a sincere desire to help me become a better person, there are more constructive ways to go about it.

I have to consider that there are some people out there who can’t just leave my blog alone and who really do want me to give up and pull the plug at the end of the month. Frankly, if I bother some folks that much then I suspect they may need to get another hobby or maybe even a life, since I’m not that significant in either the blogosphere or the human race.

But if there are people who want me to leave, that’s probably a good reason for me to stay. Remember, I don’t like bullies. If you don’t like me, don’t read my blog. I don’t read your blogs and I certainly don’t comment on them. I don’t need to hang around people who suck the joy out of life and living just because they can.

If you have a suggestion on how I can be better that is motivated by a sincere desire to help and you can express it without hostility, please let me know, either in a blog comment or via email. If you are complaining about me just because you can, I invite you to go elsewhere.

Thank you.

The Gift

Buddha was walking into the city market one day and near the city entrance an old bitter man was sitting on a box glaring at Buddha, who carried a bright smile on his face. At the sight of him this old man started cursing Buddha up and down, left right and center, telling him how pretentious he was, how much better he thought he was and how he did nothing worthy of the air he breathed in this world. But Buddha simply smiled and kept on walking to the market to get what he needed.

The next day Buddha returned to the market and once again that old man was there, this time his cursing intensified, screaming and yelling at Buddha as he walked by, cursing his mother, cursing his father and everyone else in his life.

This went on for the rest of the week and finally as the Buddha was leaving the market the man came up to him, as his curiosity had simply gotten the best of him. “Buddha, every day you come here smiling and every day I curse your name, I curse your family and everything you believe in” the old man says ” but every day you enter this city with a smile knowing that I await you with my harsh tongue, and everyday you leave through the same entrance with that same smile. I know by speaking to you now that you are not deaf, why do you keep on smiling while I do nothing but scream the worst things I can think of to your face?”

Buddha, with the same smile still on his face looks at the old man and asks “If I were to bring you a gift tomorrow morning all wrapped up in a beautiful box would you accept it?” to which the old man replies “Absolutely not, I would take nothing from the likes of you!”. “Ah ha” the Buddha replies “Well if I were to offer you this gift and you were to refuse then who would this gift belong to?”. “It would still belong to you of course” answers the old man. “And so the same goes with your anger, when I choose not to accept your gift of anger , does it not then remain your own?”

I don’t know the original source for this, (I saw it on Facebook) but a quick Google search revealed a variant of this story posted on the a raft blog. But how does a story about Buddha relate at all to a Christian?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV)

Not exactly the same lesson, but we see that we don’t have to accept anger and hostility as they are intended, but as we choose for them to be. And as I recall, I was just talking about being perfect very recently. Perfection is somehow the marriage between our experience with God and our behavior toward people. What we do and how we do it depends a great deal on what we believe, not just about God, but about others and about ourselves. It appears this is not just a Christian attitude, either.

Regardless of where a person actually is physically, he is really where his thoughts are. A person constantly has a choice to think elevated and uplifting thoughts – or negative, self-destructive thoughts. How old you feel is greatly dependent on your attitude about yourself. Elderly people can increase their vitality and vigor by considering themselves young.

We constantly talk to ourselves. We can choose to be our own best friend by telling ourselves positive thoughts, or our own worst enemy by repeating negative thoughts.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #616”

I didn’t think I was going to write an “extra meditation” today, but some of the angry responses in the comments section of one of Gene Shlomovich’s recent blog posts made it seem necessary.

I can hardly say that I always take the moral high road in these conversations. All things being equal, I can go off half-cocked as quickly as the next guy. But I still know it’s wrong to do so, even when provoked, and that in accepting the anger of someone else, I’m making it my anger. If I choose to refuse the “gift,” then the “giver” retains their anger and hostility and I am left with whatever I receive from God.

Admittedly, this is a goal I will always strive for but probably never quite attain. Buddha was an extraordinary human being and the Messiah, of course, is the Messiah, the font of all wisdom and peace. Me? I’m just a human being, like so many others, and I’m trying to make my way through life in the world.

It is a bitter thing when supposed brothers in the Messiah contend for the sake of “being right.” To try to follow the intent of Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s Growing Each Day commentaries…

Today I shall…

…try to improve my response to other people so that I only accept and give gifts of kindness, and not of anger.

78 Days: Peace and War

Boaz says that you are like the heretic Korach if you question the Mosaic authority of the Rabbis…

This is how he scared those former One Law guys into reverting to racially-classed M.J. He tells the gentiles they are heretics on par with Korach if they go against the Rabbis. So they got scared and gave in. Good ol’ scare tactics.

But guess what, folks? If you believe Yeshua is G-d then you’ve already gone against the “Mosaic” authority of the Rabbis. You want you should be a more acceptable heretic to them? A more pleasing apostate?

-from a comment on Gene Shlomovich’s blog

…their view in simple terms is not only a form of apartheid, it is demonstrably anti-biblical. Folks like some of those in UMJC and in leadership at FFOZ may try, but they simply cannot smother the Torah lifestyle movement among HaShem’s elect. How sad for them.

-from a comment on Judah Himango’s blog

I’m tired. My daughter had to be at work at five this (Sunday) morning so I had to get up at about a quarter to four so I’d be available to drive her. So as I write this (between 6:30 and 8 a.m.), I’m tired. Coffee doesn’t seem to be helping and I’ve got a full day ahead of me between watching my grandson, doing the lawn, including winterizing the trees, and hopefully being able to get to the gym.

But that’s not the only reason I’m tired. I’m tired of all the fighting in my little corner of the religious blogosphere. I’m tired of the backbiting, the demanding attitudes, the self-righteous attitudes, the “I have my rights” attitudes, and those people who think Jews are being racist because they feel that Gentiles (including Christians) aren’t Jewish.

So much for the united and loving body of Christ. So much for John 13:34 and 1 Corinthians 13. If we are supposed to be loving because God so loved the world, then obviously, we’ve failed miserably.

Regardless of whatever branch or variant of Christianity to which you find yourself attached, there always seems to be those people who can’t stand other Christians in different types of churches, who can’t stand people in their own congregations who disagree with them personally, and who barely can stand to live inside their own skin. It goes without saying that they can barely stand Jewish people or can’t stand them at all. And yet Paul said that Christianity is grafted into (in some manner or fashion) Judaism (see Romans 11:11-24).

In spite of that, I see (One Law) Christians calling Jews racist, which brings them frighteningly close to the old, lamented, historical church and its vitriolic supersessionism and anti-Jewish rhetoric that I hoped was rapidly fading from our ranks.

Boy was I wrong.

Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev was known for his love and good will toward his fellow Jews always trying to assess the good in people rather than expose the bad.

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky

That’s where we should be. Sadly, I find few of my fellow Gentile Christians who even aspire to be like Rav Levi Yitzchok.

I recently read another One Law Christian’s commentary (I don’t dignify the source by linking to it) who accused the Chabad of “brainwashing” someone (probably a Jewish someone) into rejecting Jesus. From a Christian point of view, that’s probably what it looks like and how it seems functionally, but from the Chabad’s point of view, they are “evangelizing” to the secular and apostate Jewish population (from their point of view) in a manner similar to how Christians see their mission to offer Christ’s salvation to the world.

I’m reasonably sure this is what convinced my wife to accept a more standard Jewish theology and what caused her to believe that Jesus couldn’t be the Jewish Messiah. I’m not happy about this turn of events because it places a wedge between how my wife and I see and understand God, but I can’t deny her the choice of understanding and accepting her Judaism on her own terms. I certainly don’t think she’s any more “brainwashed” as a Jew than I am as a Christian. I don’t see her as a racist because she believes that the Torah is for her and not for me. It’s not always an easy peace I’ve come to as far as this dynamic in my marriage is concerned, but it is a peace.

But every time I visit the blogosphere, I don’t find peace at all, but war.

Long has my soul dwelt with those who hate peace. I am peace; but when I speak, they are for war.

Psalm 120:6-7 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

I’ve been debating within myself about what I should do, if anything, in response. More and more, the topics on my “meditations” have been in reply to this “war” I see happening within the confines of the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots sphere of communication. I understand that the larger Christian community is not a peaceful one (in spite of John 13:34) but this is ridiculous.

While I’ve been trying to decide, in recent weeks, whether or not to return to a traditional Christian church to foster a sense of fellowship with other believers, I’ve come to the conclusion that going back to church won’t make things better at home or in me. I left my previous religious community because (in part) of the negative impact it caused on my wife and the embarrassment my being “One Law” caused her as a Jew. I had hoped that my departure would ease things enough so that I could participate with her in synagogue life, but I recently learned this was a vain hope. I have chosen to proceed hopefully forward anyway for the sake of cherishing her yiddisher neshamah, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to my decisions.

My original intent for this blog was to record my transition in theology and to learn to find my faith in a more traditional Jewish setting. But the anticipated outcome never happened, and now I realize, it never will. I’ve mentioned before that I will need to chart a new course, but while in an ultimate sense, Jesus is still the goal, the path to reach him, from where I’m standing, has become increasingly indistinct. It’s like realizing that I’m stranded in a forested valley and completely shrouded by a dense fog. I can’t see well enough to even tell which direction the trail leads. I can’t see how to climb out at all.

But in the dark all around me, I hear the sounds of battle, fighting, growling, and hostility. That would be the people who are backbiting, the “believers” with demanding attitudes, self-righteous attitudes, “I have my rights” attitudes, and those people who think Jews are being racist because they feel that Gentiles (including Christians) aren’t Jewish.

Is this all I’ve got to look forward to by continuing to participate in this online community? If so, where the heck can I find the Jewish Messiah in it? Among people who say they love Israel but who (seemingly) hate Jews; who accuse Jews of racism and brainwashing?

This blog was never intended to be an endless stream of my thoughts and feelings without a goal or destination in mind. It was intended to be a chronicle of my journey of faith, not a “war journal” describing battle after meaningless battle between people who supposedly all share the same Messiah and the same God.

Maybe I’m just tired and maybe I’ll see this all differently if I manage to get some rest, but these thoughts have been plaguing me for some time now.

I found a site that uses a simple bit of JavaScript to display a countdown from the present date and time to New Year’s Day 2013. 78 days seems as good as any time limit to give this journey of mine to reach a conclusion. I’m giving myself (I guess I can’t really give it to anyone else) 78 days from today, Sunday, October 14, 2012, to either find a way to come to terms with the baloney I’ve been describing or to pull the plug on this blog and possibly any public participation in Christian faith. I’m really tired of the fighting and I’m not Running out of timegoing to contend with any sort of anti-Jewish Christian (whether you call yourselves “One Law,” “One Torah,” “Two House” or anything else) “baloney” (imagine I’m using a much stronger term) for much longer.

Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or the morning of December 31st (a Monday), and feel that I can go on writing meditations regardless of the fog or the clanging of sword and shield resounding in the mist surrounding me. Maybe I’ll wake up and find the fog has lifted and the din has ceased or at least traveled a good distance from me…or I’ll discover that the weapons of hostility and war simply don’t affect me anymore, and everyone else can just knock themselves out in their need to fight, while I can pass safely among them.

And maybe not.

There are infinite worlds beyond ours and beyond the worlds of the angels, all full of divine light, beauty and oneness.

But know also that all this was brought into being with a single purpose: G‑d desires to be at home within your mundane world.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Purpose”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

This is what I’m looking for or close to it.

Anyway, I’m giving myself 78 days to find it or to figure it out. I’ll continue writing “meditations” as I always have during that time period, but I’ll also continue to contribute to this “time-limited series” as a commentary on this branch of my journey of discovery. Where will I end up when January 1, 2013 rolls around? Stick around and see. I don’t even know the answer yet myself.

Attack Dogs

Jennifer Bristol recently lost one of her oldest friends—thanks to a Facebook fight about pit bulls.

The trouble started when she posted a newspaper article asserting that pit bulls were the most dangerous type of dog in New York City last year. “Please share thoughts… 833 incidents with pitties,” wrote Ms. Bristol, a 40-year-old publicist and animal-welfare advocate in Manhattan.

Her friends, many of whom also work in the animal-welfare world, quickly weighed in. One noted that “pit bull” isn’t a single official breed; another said “irresponsible ownership” is often involved when dogs turn violent. Black Labs may actually bite more, someone else offered.

Then a childhood pal of Ms. Bristol piped up with this: “Take it from an ER doctor… In 15 years of doing this I have yet to see a golden retriever bite that had to go to the operating room or killed its target.”

That unleashed a torrent…

“It was ridiculous,” says Ms. Bristol, who stayed out of the fight. Her old buddy, the ER doctor, unfriended her the next morning. That was eight months ago. She hasn’t heard from him since.

-Elizabeth Bernstein
“Why We Are So Rude Online (October 1, 2012)
The Wall Street Journal

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.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Disagree Respectfully”
Today’s Daily Lift, #586

I recently posted a meditation about this very topic, and having to take the extreme action of banning someone from commenting on my blog. While I suppose I could assign the “blame” for the whole difficult experience to the person in question, in fact, the subject of Elizabeth Bernstein’s news article deserves some “credit.”

Why are people so rude online? People will say all kinds of things to other people online that they’d never dream of saying (most of the time) in person. Part of me is amazed that this tendency spills over into the religious blogosphere, but then, I find religious people possess just as wide a variety of character traits (and flaws) as the general population, rudeness included.

One of the reasons for online rudeness cited in Bernstein’s story is anonymity. When you can hide behind a fake screen name and avatar, there’s no sense of personal accountability because your statements aren’t easily traced back to your actual identity (nevermind that we’re not as anonymous as we think online, particularly on Facebook, or to someone with sufficient technical skills). There’s even a suggestion that the effect of being online reduces our inhibitions in the same way as alcohol.

Most of us present an enhanced image of ourselves on Facebook. This positive image—and the encouragement we get, in the form of “likes”—boosts our self-esteem. And when we have an inflated sense of self, we tend to exhibit poor self-control.

“Think of it as a licensing effect: You feel good about yourself so you feel a sense of entitlement,” says Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study. “And you want to protect that enhanced view, which might be why people are lashing out so strongly at others who don’t share their opinions.” These types of behavior—poor self control, inflated sense of self—”are often displayed by people impaired by alcohol,” he adds.

A sense of entitlement, boosting poor self-esteem, reducing self-control, I don’t think this just happens to people who use Facebook.

The Bernstein article also states that, according to Sherry Turkle, psychologist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of the social studies of science and technology, our inhibitions are lowered because we can’t see the reactions of the people we’re addressing with our comments. Because we can’t “see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other,” Dr. Turkle states.

I’ve heard there are two topics that can guarantee you will immediately become involved in an enraged conversation, both online and in-person: politics and religion. Here’s an example of both happening at the same time:

Over the past few months, Mr. Bolcik lost two real-life friends because of online political spats. The first friend got mad at him after he posted a status update asking people to debate whether Mormons are Christians. (“You are so off base you don’t know what you are talking about,” she wrote on his page, followed later by: “You’re an idiot.”) Mr. Bolcik blocked her from his page. “I will allow free discussion until you irritate me,” he says. Sometimes, he erases entire conversation threads.

Cause, effect, and consequence all rolled up into a single paragraph. Post something controversial on your blog, or on Facebook, twitter, or some other social networking platform. Someone will invariably react rudely or even in a (verbally) violent matter. Then, as Mr. Bolcik stated, “I will allow free discussion until you irritate me.” And I’ve also seen people eliminate entire conversations on Facebook before.

Sometimes a “battle” will start between two people and then others will be dragged into it, sort of like calling up reinforcements:

…he says—he privately messages one of his “attack dog” friends and suggests he or she join the discussion. “I will say, ‘Gee, this discussion doesn’t seem right to me, what do you think?’ ” he says. “Then they will go on there and berate the person who is upsetting me, and I will look like the good guy.”

Taken to an extreme, this could be sort of like a miniaturized version of a flash mob, at least if you have a popular blog and a lot of online friends with similar points of view and an equal capacity for responding aggressively.

Most of us don’t have really popular blogs (I mean thousands or even tens of thousands of regular readers) or very large numbers of online associates who are willing to fly into a rage at a moment’s notice, but we can marshal what resources we have to be, if not a menace, then at least a nudnik.

What can be done about this unfortunate tendency to lose our sense of compassion and courtesy once we sit down in front of a keyboard (or when we are on our mobile) and start browsing various social networking venues? It’s no secret and I suppose the answer is what we euphemistically refer to as “common sense.”

Stop being rude. Exercise self-control. Speak with humility. Most importantly, if you are a religious person, behave consistently with your stated values.

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.

I’m not sure Rabbi Pliskin is basing his commentary on Internet conversations, but I certainly hope so. It would mean that there’s hope for those of us in the religious online space, and that we are not condemned by our human nature or the dynamics of web communications to behave like a group of jackasses.

Religious people present themselves, their faith, and their God online and, especially Christians, say stuff like, “Jesus is the answer.” Then when someone disagrees, the religious person proceeds to call their opponent every name in the book except a “child of God.”

“There was a time when I used to say: that man’s a Turk, or a Bulgar, or a Greek. I’ve done things for my country that would make your hair stand on end, boss. I’ve cut people’s throats, burned villages, robbed and raped women, wiped out entire families. Why? Because they were Bulgars, or Turks. ‘Bah! To hell with you, you swine!’ I say to myself sometimes. ‘To hell with you right away, you ass.’ Nowadays I say this man is a good fellow, that one’s a bastard. They can be Greeks or Bulgars or Turks, it doesn’t matter. Is he good? Or his he bad? That’s the only thing I ask nowadays. As I grow older – I’d swear this on the last crust I eat – I feel I shan’t even go on asking that! Whether a man’s good or bad, I’m sorry for him, for all of ’em. The sight of a man just rends my insides, even if I act as though I don’t care a damn! There he is, poor devil, I think; he also eats and drinks and makes love and is frightened, whoever he is: he has his God and his devil just the same, and he’ll peg out and lie as stiff as a board beneath the ground and be food for worms, just the same. Poor devil! We’re all brothers! All worm meat.”

-Nikos Kazantzakis from his novel
“Zorba the Greek”

We can do this better. We need to do this better. Angry religious people are not just discrediting themselves, they are dragging God’s Name and reputation through the mud along with them. We can either sanctify the Name of the Holy One or desecrate it. It’s your choice. It’s my choice. What will you do next time you read something on Facebook, twitter, or on someone’s blog (or a comment on your own blog) and then feel the anger rise within you like an enraged, blazing Phoenix boiling and then vaporizing the calm, cool waters of your spirit?



Forgiving the Victim

Personally, I am a big fan of forgiveness. I believe that there is no such thing as a transgression so great that it cannot be forgiven. In fact, it’s Elul, the month in the Hebrew calendar not only known to lovers of crossword puzzles, but the month leading up to both Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year — and Yom Kippur — a day which promises that whatever we have done, forgiveness and atonement are always possible.

That same tradition, however, also teaches that while anything can be forgiven, we don’t always equate forgiveness with forgetfulness, recognizing that forgiveness is not always the same as atonement. The former reflects a letting go of the hurt and anger caused by a bad act, while the latter implies a reunified or reconciled relationship as seen in the word: at-one-ment.

-Brad Hirschfield
“Forgiving Todd Akin”
The Washington Post

Everyone’s terrified. No one knows what they want to work on. Everyone has something that they find hard. Because this stuff IS really hard. If they aren’t anxious or nervous, they are compensating, and pretending. Never walk into a room and expect that you are the smartest person in it, because you probably aren’t. Don’t let that scare you, let it feed you.

-Joe Hanson
“Impostor Syndrome Grad School”
It’s OK To Be Smart

The month of Elul is all about repentance and forgiveness. I recently read a statement on Facebook made by a Jewish gentlemen who said, “If I have hurt anyone, or said anything that was offensive to any of my friends, I ask your forgiveness before Yom Kippur just as I forgive all who have offended me.” That pretty much captures the heart of Elul and the hearts of anyone who desires to forgive and be forgiven.

But it’s not that easy. I read the article about Todd Akin a day or so ago and am presenting it as an example of how difficult it can be to forgive someone, even if you believe they are sincere in their repentance.

Just in case you don’t know who Todd Akin is or why he is asking for forgiveness, here’s another portion of Mr. Hirschfield’s opinion piece:

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin has vowed to stay in his race for the Senate despite calls from leaders in every wing of his party that he abandon the campaign, and despite comments from presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who found Akin’s ideas about “legitimate rape” and the “fact” that “forcibly raped” women are biologically protected from getting pregnant, to be indefensible.

Mr. Akin has inspired more than a little outrage from people in general and women in specific. The idea that a woman can be raped and if it is “really” rape, that her body will shut down certain processes so she cannot become pregnant is just plain crazy. It’s a deep insult to any rape victim and particularly any rape victim who has become pregnant by her assailant. I can’t even begin to imagine what Mr. Akin was thinking when he made that astonishing statement.

I don’t know if this is true in Mr. Akin’s case, but I have encountered more than a few people who behaved in an abrasive, hostile, bullying, condescending, or otherwise unpleasant manner, not because they ever wanted to victimize other people, but because they felt they were defending themselves.

Let me explain.

At some point or another, we’ve all been hurt. Almost invariably, we’ve experienced hurt in childhood. It’s almost impossible for a child to avoid pain all of the time. They’re so dependent on the adults around them; their parents, other close relatives, their teachers, and if raised in a religious home, their clergy. Any one of these adults, in a thoughtless or careless moment, could scare or otherwise traumatize a small child.

Of course, if it is a single, random event and otherwise, you are a child being raised in a supportive, protective home, having one uncle or teacher yell at you isn’t’ going to scar you for life. But if the trauma is repeated or chronic, and if the child is raised in an insecure environment, it’s not so easy to overcome. There are also acute traumatic events like a severe illness or injury that can result in a child feeling insecure and victimized, even if no one is at fault. A child may perceive a long hospital stay with many invasive medical procedures as punishing, even when it’s absolutely necessary. The child can blame his parents for leaving him there, forcing him to be “hurt” by needles, being alone in the dark in a strange place.

There are a lot of things that can feel hurtful to a child.

Children have no power in their lives. They depend almost entirely on the adults around them for protection. However, as those children become adults, it becomes different. The parents have less and less of a role in protecting the child and helping him to cope, and the person who is now an adult must take personal responsibility for how they react and manage their victimization (which can be a real or a perceived betrayal).

Many people find ways to adapt and overcome a childhood trauma or victimization. I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m certainly not minimizing the pain and anguish people have gone through. I am saying there is hope, but each of us must realize that we can’t place all the responsibility to overcome on our environment or even on the people and events that have hurt us. We must take charge of the process ourselves; we must make ourselves responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

But what happens when someone is still struggling with their sense of victimization? What happens when your first impression of a person is their hostility, their abrasive attitude, how they bully other people? You probably don’t think they’re a victim. You’re more likely to think they’re an aggressor or even a perpetrator who victimizes others.

It’s one thing when someone approaches us in a humble and sorrowful way, explains to us why they behaved in a hurtful manner, resolves to correct their error, and asks for our forgiveness. It becomes very easy and compelling to forgive them. We want to forgive them. All their barriers are down. They’re vulnerable. If we have a shred of pity within us, we’ll forgive them without hesitation.

It’s another thing entirely to know a person is probably a victim but they do not accept any responsibility for their abusive behaviors and they definitely don’t ask for forgiveness. It’s very hard to get past their barriers when they continue to blame others, not just those who really victimized them, but entire people groups or institutions for how they feel. It would be like blaming all Christians everywhere and calling the church evil because one Christian person or even one rather sketchy Christian church hurt you, even if they hurt you very badly.

If you’re a Christian and you’re continually being blamed by a person who was hurt by “religion” or “Christianity” and you know their aggressive actions are just the mask they use to conceal a very hurt and vulnerable person, can you still forgive them?

Remember, when you tell them you forgive them, they will likely say they’ve done nothing requiring forgiveness and blame you for the whole thing.

Forgiveness is one thing. Reconciliation is something else. But then, Mr. Hirschfield has more to say on the subject.

The desire to be forgiven is only the beginning of the lengthy process of atonement, and it takes much more than an ad campaign, however sincere it may be, to get there.

I am all for forgiving those who genuinely seek forgiveness, but part of that search must include a clear understanding by the wrongdoer of the nature of the misdeed.

I don’t believe that anybody should be judged by their worst deeds or dumbest words alone. Who among us could pass that test? And I do believe in second chances, even hundreds of them…

Confusing forgiveness with forgetfulness and trying to short circuit the process of genuine atonement demeans a sacred concept. So by all means, people should open themselves to forgiving Todd Akin, but that has little or nothing to do with supporting his candidacy for the Senate.

We can and should learn to forgive people who have insulted, hurt, and victimized us, but that doesn’t mean continuing to allow them to hurt us because it’s what they think they need to do to make their own pain feel better. A battered wife may learn to forgive her abusive husband in time, but that doesn’t mean she still shouldn’t divorce him and gain sole custody of their children for her protection and her children’s. You can forgive and still protect yourself from further abuse. You can realize that your abuser is a victim too, but it may never be safe to attempt any form of reconciliation with them, to allow yourself to be around them, to even talk, email, text, or communicate with them in any way.

Once the victim becomes the victimizer in any form whatsoever, while we can forgive them, it will still be difficult or impossible to be around them. Unless they seek help and accept personal responsibility for their actions and for repairing the damage within them, even though they never caused the pain in the first place, how can we say that our forgiving them means we should let them keep hurting us, even in very “minor” ways like name-calling or blaming?

Also, as Mr. Hirschfield said, forgiveness and atonement are a long process. Sometimes it can take years. Just saying, “I forgive you” doesn’t mean you really did. You may have to learn to see past the hurt he did to you before you’re ready to accept that your abuser is a victim, too.

ForgivenessJoe Hanson essentially said that you can let your insecurities control you or you can learn to control them. He wasn’t talking about being a victim, but I think his advice is sound and applies here. Part of what’s supposed to go on during Elul is that we’re supposed to examine our behavior and see where it’s fallen short of God’s standards. This must include our “righteous” behavior when we felt we were “confronting evil” or “protecting ourselves by being proactive.” Were we being unfair? Were we blaming people who never hurt us? Are we projecting our own pain, anger, and suppressed rage onto others?

Are we perpetuating our own victimization and feeling self-righteous by continuing to attack and blame people who had nothing to do with the original cause of our pain?

What if our so-called “righteousness” is just a disguise and we’ve really become the monster we are still afraid of in the dark?

We can never go back in time and prevent the damage that was done to us. We can however, take responsibility for who we are today, seek God, seek help through various therapeutic means, and rise up out of the ashes of our yesterday to become a better, more truly righteous, and forgiving person tomorrow.


If I have hurt anyone, or said anything that was offensive to anyone, I ask your forgiveness before Yom Kippur just as I forgive all who have offended me.