BTW, considering the subject of the kingdom of heaven and the establishment of the physical messianic kingdom on earth in Israel, at present and during the past couple of hours a large area of southern Israel has been under heavy bombardment by missiles fired from Gaza. I’ve spent a portion of that time in my home’s concrete-reinforced shelter room. So far, all but a few of these missiles have been intercepted and destroyed by the Iron Dome defense system (Baruch HaShem!). The few that landed have not injured anyone or caused serious damage. They have reached, however, as far as the northern suburbs of Jerusalem, as well as to Tel-Aviv, and the alert sirens have blared from BeerSheva to Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. Hamas claims to have fired toward Haifa, but I have not yet seen any reports confirming that their missiles can actually reach that far. Nonetheless, this is a time for intensive prayer for the continued protection of Israeli citizens, and success for the IDF efforts to destroy Hamas’ capabilities to continue waging war against civilian populations in this or any manner.
July 8, 2014 at 3:12 p.m.
It all seemed to start with the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Jewish teenagers, Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah, perpetrated by Hamas terrorists. This horrible and tragic event brought Israeli Jews and Jews in the diaspora together in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time. While the IDF made a concerted effort to find the perpetrators, the military and public response was remarkably restrained. Believe me, as a father and grandfather, if one of mine were brutally murdered in what we call in the United States, “a hate crime,” I’d have wanted blood.
But I’m not as noble as the families of the victims.
Apparently in revenge for the killings, a 16-year-old Palestinian named Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and found burned to death. Although there were early allegations that Abu Khdeir, supposedly gay, had been murdered by other Palestinians in an “honor killing” and then blame shifted to Jewish Israelis, the latest report is that six Jewish suspects were arrested. It is still highly disputed in some circles that the suspects are the actual killers and that police are covering up for Arab perpetrators, perhaps to stop or at least inhibit the Palestinian rioting that has broken out since Mohammed’s burnt body was discovered.
I heard that one of the mothers of the Jewish victims reached out to Mohammed’s mother, but I can’t find that story online just now (speaking of people more noble than I am), but I do know that Mohammed’s parents refused a visit by President Shimon Peres. In fact, unlike the mothers of the Jewish boys, Mohammed’s mother called for violent revenge against Jews.
If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know where my bias lies in all this, but I’m not writing my “meditation” to bash Palestinians, but rather, to try to put all of this together.
I received the following email from Judith R. in response to my recent Shabbat Shalom Weekly:
“And no word condemning the despicable murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, and referring to him by his name??? What kind of Rabbi are you? Wasn’t he also created in God’s image?”
Of course she is right.
The juxtaposition of attitudes is startling.
But “attitudes” aren’t all people are worrying about in Israel just now.
Some 120 rockets from Gaza were fired at Israel on Tuesday, the first day of the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge.
IDF Spokesperson Peter Lerner told the AFP news agency that 23 of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, with most of the rest exploding on open ground causing no damage or casualties.
Hamas upped the ante on Tuesday and extended the range of the rockets.
“120 Rockets Fired at Israel During Day 1 of Operation”
First published 7/9/2014, 1:15 a.m.
Hamas has vowed revenge after an attempt to use Palestinian civilians as human shields resulted in several fatalities, as Israeli Air Force planes targeted the home of a Hamas commander.
Gazan emergency services claim Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 15 people on Tuesday and wounded 80 others, as the military began an aerial campaign against terrorists in the Strip and prepares for a potential ground offensive.
-Ari Soffer, Dalit Halevi, and AFP
“Hamas Vows Revenge After Use of Human Shields Goes Awry”
First published 7/8/2014, 5:29 p.m.
Struggling to maintain the banner of ‘resistance’, the Gazan terror group is firing at Israel in the hope Ramallah and Cairo will hear its plea for help.
“Hamas decides to go for broke”
Published 7/8/2014, 4:02 p.m.
Times of Israel
And America’s response to all of this?
Hamas terrorists kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers, one of whom was a U.S. citizen.
These jihadist terrorists murdered kids. Yet, the reaction of the Obama Administration has been an absolute disgrace.
Remember, a U.S. citizen was just murdered (along two other Israeli teens) by Palestinian terrorists – known brutal terrorist who routinely fire rockets at Israeli civilians – and the Obama Administration responded by urging restraint.
In fact, President Obama actually urged “all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.”
Destabilize? Hamas terrorists killed an American teen and all this Administration is concerned about is that things may destabilize?
“President Obama Responds to Hamas Terrorists’ Murder of American Teen with “Strongest Possible” Meaningless Words”
July 1, 2014, 12:47 p.m.
OK, that last story is over a week old, but to the best of my information, America hasn’t become more involved diplomatically or in any other way since Hamas started firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians in an all out attempt to provoke other Arab forces to join the violence against Israel.
I do know that although the American press was exceptionally silent about the death of the three Jewish teens, it prominently posted stories regarding Mohammed:
Several Israeli Jewish suspects were arrested Sunday in connection with the killing of a Palestinian teen, Israeli police said.
“Investigation continuing, strong indication a nationalistic incident,” Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tweeted about the death of Mohammed Abu Khedair.
Rosenfeld told CNN that those arrested were Israeli Jews.
-Kareem Khadder, Ben Wedeman, and Steve Almasy CNN
“Israel arrests several suspects in killing of Palestinian teen”
updated 11:21 a.m., Monday, 7/7/2014
If I can be said to have a bias in this situation, so can the American news media…and perhaps the American President.
Amazingly, even in the midst of a war zone, life goes on in Israel:
Making Aliyah is never an easy task, and leaving family, friends and memories behind is enough of a challenge for any new oleh.
But imagine making Aliyah under fire.
That is precisely what 26-year-old Becky Kupchan – one of the 64 new olim who arrived today from the USA – is doing. She is moving from Chicago straight to the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, despite the fact that the city, like other Negev communities, is currently being rocked by waves of rocket-fire from Gaza.
“Making Aliyah Under Fire”
First published 7/8/2014, 8:06 p.m.
Where am I going with all this? By the time you read this tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, everything I’ve written will be old news. Things could get better or things could get worse. Or things could get much, much worse.
I think of my friends in Israel. I won’t embarrass anyone by naming names. But I’m not limited to my personal feelings for friends and acquaintances. If Israel is under attack, then so are all Jews everywhere. My wife is Jewish. So are my two sons and my daughter. At different times, my wife and my daughter have visited Israel. What if they were visiting there now?
But as I said, Jews are under attack all over the world. If Arab Muslims are firing rockets at Jews in Israel, they are at war with all Jews. The rest of the world, if they/we don’t stand up against terrorism and against this rabid series of rocket launches, are offering tacit approval of this war.
And what’s going to happen when Israel seriously strikes back as the operation continues? If this were happening in America, how long would even the person we have now in the White House stand by and let innocent people be endangered before firing back with all the might in our arsenals, eliminating the hostile forces and everything (everyone) else in the way?
Most of you reading this blog post have never been under fire unless you have served in the military or in law enforcement. How would you like to hear a siren in the middle of the night and have fifteen seconds to get to shelter because after that, it becomes distinctly possible you could be killed in a missile explosion?
Such things don’t happen in America, in Canada, in most or all western nations. They are happening right now in Israel.
It started (this time) with an act of terrorism and cold-blooded murder that took the lives of three innocent Jewish teenage boys. It escalated with what appears to be a completely misguided revenge killing of another innocent teenager, a Palestinian. And then all hell broke loose.
I can only record how this began, I can’t tell you how it will end. Well, I can tell you that it will end, ultimately end.
“A song of ascents. Of David. Had it not been for Hashem Who was with us, let Israel declare now. Had it not been for Hashem Who was with us when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us raw when their anger was kindled against us. Then the waters would have washed us away; illness would have passed over our soul. Then the wicked waters would have passed over our soul. Blessed is Hashem, Who did not give us as prey for their teeth. Our soul escaped like a bird from the hunters’ snare; the snare broke, and we escaped. Our help is in the name of Hashem, Who made heaven and earth.”
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee.
Community. It’s that thing, the way of life, that we all want but we’re just not quite sure how to pull it off successfully. It’s that tantalizing concept that promises so much reward, and yet it seems so elusive. Its promise sometimes causes us to cut ties where we are and move somewhere else where we hope to find greener pastures, better friends, and/or become part of a different community. Then when we do get a taste of real community, it’s only a matter of time before our hearts are stunned with hurt or insult. But a lack of community causes us to feel despondent, alone, and often times as if we’re missing out on something significant that was intended for us all along. This community thing can really be disappointing!
Following the Ancient Paths
I wrote a lengthy response to this blog post, but when I pushed “Post Comment,” I received an error message and my comment was lost forever. It was a rather lengthy comment (go figure) and I suspect the blog application was complaining to me about it. I thought about re-writing the comment but decided to blog instead.
Lisa’s blog post addresses what we should already know. Being part of any group or community is hard work. It’s hard to join, it’s hard to sustain, it’s hard to adapt over time. This includes families, employers, and Lisa’s specific topic, religious organizations.
I can sympathize. A little over a year ago I “went back to church” and in that time have had many interesting, educational, and dismaying “adventures.” But as Lisa’s blog post suggests, this is to be expected. No group that involves multiple human beings is always going to run smoothly.
We live in a world that seems to praise isolationism, yet we instinctively know that we weren’t created to be loaners (sic). Somehow it’s considered a good thing when we can handle things alone, when we can appear stand tall with a backbreaking burden strapped to our backs, when we live such private lives that nobody knows what is really going on with us. Deep inside we know that it isn’t right to go through life all alone. We wrestle with wanting something yet not wanting the very same thing, pursuing it and rejecting it all at the same time.
As Lisa says, we want to go it alone to avoid all of the messiness of being part of a community, but when alone, we know that being isolated from community isn’t right, either. Sort of a “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em” situation.
The main point of my lost comment was the issue of competing interests. Affiliation with one community may conflict with another affiliation. In my case, I’m a Christian living with Jewish family members while attending a Christian church. How does that work?
Another set of competing interests has to do with entering into and finding a niche within a community. I recently declared that I’m a Christian who studies Messianic Judaism, and yet I attend a very fundamentalist Baptist church in Southwestern Idaho. If you’ve read any of my blog posts about my conversations with my Pastor, you know that although we get along, we disagree on a number of fundamental (no pun intended) elements of what faith in Messiah means, particularly to the Jewish people.
Can a square peg successfully integrate into a church of round holes? Good question.
I recently finished the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It tells the story of Pi, born and raised in India, from childhood to adulthood through a series of flashbacks, with the main action taking place aboard a lifeboat shortly after Pi’s family died in a shipwreck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Pi is the only human survivor, but finds that he must share the lifeboat with an injured Zebra, an Orangutan, a Hyena, and a 450 pound, male adult Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker (Pi’s father was a zookeeper and they were transporting a number of their animals from India to their new home in Canada).
The other interesting thing besides how Pi manages to survive seven months adrift at sea sharing a lifeboat with a Tiger (the other animals didn’t make it), is that as a child, Pi adopted three religious traditions, first Hinduism, then Christianity (Catholicism), and finally Islam. Pi practiced all three religions simultaneously, ignoring the basic tenet of each that these religions are exclusivist. That is, if you belong to one, you cannot also belong to any other religion.
Pi managed to observe each religious tradition in parallel without arousing suspicion for a while, but eventually it caught up with him, and he was finally confronted by all three congregational leaders at the same time in a public place in front of his parents.
When questioned about why he thought he could be a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim all at the same time, he responds by saying that he “just wants to love God.” (Martel, pg 69)
The book follows Pi’s life into adulthood and middle age where he is married with two children and a small dog and living in Toronto. He still practices all three religions, with no mention of any conflict in his family or in any of the involved congregations, but “Life of Pi” is a work of fiction and operates often at the level of religious allegory (I still haven’t figured out what the carnivorous island is supposed to mean).
In real life, Pi would never be able to successfully manage practicing all three religions, not only because of the conflicts between those communities, but the likely conflict with his own family, particularly his wife, who almost certainly had formed her religious or irreligious affiliations before she ever met and married Pi.
I have to admit, when I read about the sheer audacity and innocence of Pi’s devotion to three different religious branches, cherishing the best in all three, I felt a moment of admiration and even envy. What would it be like to open your arms wide and to take in and accept humanity’s vast range of traditions in worshiping God just for the sheer love of God?
It isn’t practical, which I suspect is one of the reasons why Martel’s novel is called a fantasy.
But Interfaith communities aren’t unheard of in our world. Author Susan Katz Miller maintains the On Being Both blog which celebrates a variety of interfaith families and communities, but such celebrations aside, one does not easily navigate the stormy seas that occur when theologies, doctrines, and dogmas clash in the narrow straits between one religion and another.
The solution in my own family, as it stands now, is something of a compartmentalization of each religion. In my home, Christianity and Judaism exist in separate silos, rarely communicating across the gap between them for the sake of peace. I do occasionally get emails from my wife containing links to news or information items on Israel or Judaism but I’m very careful not to bring up Christianity.
The ugly times is where our communities can grow stronger, more dedicated to one another, where each member grows in righteousness and in the image of our Master. The challenge is on the table. Are we ready to accept it?
It is true that adversity can produce stronger communities, but there’s a line that, if crossed, means that adversity has exceeded manageable limits and is destructive, not constructive. Sort of like lifting weights at a gym to build strength but overtraining resulting in injury, sometimes serious injury.
The television show “Sesame Street” sometimes has a lesson in the form of a song called One of these things is not like the others and I know what that experience is like in spades. There are interfaith communities that (seemingly) successfully co-exist within the same larger group, and there are interfaith families that are created and thrive for decades (such as my own), but that doesn’t mean it’s easy (which is what Lisa’s blog is all about).
But beyond being “not easy,” there are times when “not easy” becomes impossible or at least highly improbable, like a fourteen-year old boy from India who is a practicing Hindu, Christian, and Muslim, or the same boy two years later who manages to survive for seven months in the Pacific Ocean sharing a lifeboat with a large Bengal Tiger. How long can such a relationship between communities last before something gives?
A third explosion was heard just before 4 p.m., about an hour after the first two blasts, at the nearby John F. Kennedy Library. The police later said that episode may have been unrelated.
By John Eligon and Ken Belson
“Explosions at Boston Marathon Kill 2”
Published April 15, 2013
The New York Times
What can I say that hasn’t already been said except to encourage everyone reading this to pray for the victims of the blasts and their loved ones. May God grant mercy and consoling to them and to everyone touched by this horrible tragedy.
My heart grieves with the victims.
“Just as the bride circles around the groom as an expression of yearning and love, so do we circle Jerusalem’s gates as we express our yearning to see it rebuilt, our yearning for the days when we will all be able to go up to the Temple Mount and to the [rebuilt] Temple, and not just walk on the perimeter road that surrounds the walls”, said Nadia Matar.
The18th Annual Walk Around The Walls – Jerusalem
By Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar
As quoted from Magic City Morning Star
The Jerusalem Talmud makes an astounding statement: “The generation in which the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple, is not rebuilt is to be regarded as though the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed in that generation.” The explanation is simple. When we mourn for the Beit Hamikdash, we are not mourning for a building that was destroyed 2,000 years ago. Our mourning must be directed to the realization that each generation is obligated to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash and that our failure to do so has little to do with politics, the debate over who has control over the Temple Mount, or the threat of the Arab nations to go to war if we disturb the mosques that sit atop the Temple Mount. The Beit Hamikdash will be rebuilt when a sufficient number of Jews make a commitment to change their lives. When will the Messiah come? As the Torah says, “Today, if you hearken to My voice.”
-Rabbi Pinchas Stolper
“Why Do We Still Mourn”
Excerpted from Living Beyond Time: The Mystery and Meaning of the Jewish Festivals
quoted from Aish.com
I really thought I was done blogging about Tisha B’Av and the Temple and was planning on continuing to write about how we in the community of faith can love, but Rabbi Stolper’s article was recommended to me by a friend on Facebook (one who I’ve met in real life…thanks, Michele), so I thought I should read it.
And I couldn’t stop reading it, and thinking, and then writing.
When writing about Tisha B’Av, I naturally tend to focus on grief and loss. It never occurred to me to see the annual event of marching around Jerusalem as an act of love. In retrospect, it should have been obvious to me. Now it always will be.
But as I mentioned yesterday, how we love and even why we love can be terribly misunderstood. When a Christian says that he or she loves all people made in the image of God, including gay people, the LGBT community and the atheist world tends to doubt that Christian’s sincerity, at least unless the Christian follows up by saying they wholeheartedly support “marriage equality.” I mean, how can you love gay people if you don’t support their desire to marry? But then, how can you love God, love the teachings of Christ, believe his definition that marriage occurs exclusively between a man and a woman (see Matthew 19:4-6 as it references Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24) and still be expected to love a gay person only by supporting “marriage equality?”
The answer is that Christians will express their love in many and varied forms as God defines love, but not as absolute agreement and approval of all progressive social and political expectations.
But when you love Jerusalem:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy! –Psalm 137:5-6 (ESV)
But there’s a problem here:
Palestinians accused U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday of undermining peace prospects by calling Jerusalem “the capital of Israel”, ignoring their own claims to the city and most world opinion.
Romney used the term on Sunday to sustained applause from his Israeli audience in the Holy City, during a trip to present himself as Israel’s closest ally ahead of the November 6 election contest with President Barack Obama.
“We condemn his statements. Those who speak about the two-state solution should know that there can be no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters on Monday.
by Jihan Abdalla
as quoted from news.yahoo.com
The Jewish people and Israel aren’t the only ones to have an interest in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Does loving Jerusalem, desiring that the Temple be rebuilt, and longing for the coming of the Messiah mean that the Jews fail at loving the Arab people? Do they even have an obligation to love and respect them? For that matter, since we Christians have a vested interest in seeing the Temple rebuilt (since prophecy states the Messiah; Jesus will be the one to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem), do we have an obligation to love the Arab people who oppose this prophecy?
I can’t speak for the Jewish people, but as I said yesterday, as Christians we are obligated to love, even our “enemy.” Remember though, this isn’t “enemy” as in an enemy in war, but someone we encounter, someone in our environment, someone who needs God’s love as we can express it though acts of compassion and charity. Who’s to say who is our “enemy” or a “neighbor?”
Which doesn’t mean we have to agree with their politics or even their religion.
I can’t answer the question of how the Temple will be rebuilt and what happens to El Aqsa mosque, which is currently located on the Temple Mount. I leave that up to God. However, some Jewish people have a more definite solution as we see in Katsover’s and Matar’s news story:
Later in his (MK Prof. Aryeh Eldad, co-leader of the Erets Israel Knesset Lobby) speech he referred to the future of the El Aqsa mosque, located on the Temple Mount, as he sees it, and said that we can learn one thing from Beit El’s Ulpana Hill deal, and that is the idea of sawing. “There is one thing we can all learn from one of the most questionable deals we have made lately, and that is what happened at the Ulpana Hill, where they decided to dismantle and relocate the houses, rather than destroy them. At least, when the time comes to reconstruct the Temple, and that time is coming, we will dismantle and relocate the “house” that is currently there. We will cut it up and they can relocate it wherever they want, because that’s where the Third Temple belongs”, called out Eldad over the applause of the crowd.
I can’t imagine many Palestinian Arabs “feeling the love” for Prof. Eldad as he compares disassembling and moving the El Aqsa mosque to the way Jewish homes have been taken apart and removed from so-called “occupied” land, and reassembled in those parts of Israel the Palestinians formally recognize as Israel (at least for the time being). I can imagine that they’d experience Prof. Eldad’s words as about as loving as those of Mr. Romney when he declared that all of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
It seems as if, at least from a Christian point of view, we have a conflict between our religious and theological priorities and the command to love other human beings. If we, for example, insist that “marriage equality” is in direct opposition to the definition of marriage that Jesus gave us, then we are perceived as not loving gay people. Or if we, using another example, believe that Jesus will return and construct a third, physical temple on the Temple Mount in Holy Jerusalem and re-establish Israel as not only a Jewish nation, but the head of all the nations of the earth, the Arab world will certainly not experience us as loving them, either.
So is this an either/or situation? Do we either stick to our theological guns, or toss the Bible, God, and faith out the window in order to blend in and disappear into the progressive social and political masses?
Or is it an either/or situation?
We are often told by atheists, progressives, and politically liberal religious people that Jesus loved unconditionally. But did he?
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:34-46 (ESV)
I have to believe that Jesus loves unconditionally as God the Father loves humanity unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean we are all free to do as we please with no consequences, just because of that love. Apparently, Jesus has standards and expectations. Not everyone will be acceptable to him in the final judgment. There will be distinctions between people depending on how or if they expressed love in terms of feeding and clothing the needy and visiting the hospitalized and imprisoned, to take the examples presented in the verses above.
Jesus didn’t say that we had to love other people by agreeing with everyone’s social, political, religious, and national priorities. Loving others, as we see here, doesn’t obligate us to adopt everyone else’s behavioral and social desires, just as God’s unconditional love for us doesn’t absolve us from the consequences of our disobedience to Him.
I was recently reminded that the New Testament uses 1 Corinthians 13 as the “crystalization” of Christian love. Love is considered the greatest expression of faith and indeed, is greater than both faith and hope.
But love is not blind and it is not ignorant, nor should it be swayed by whatever issue is considered important or critical in this week’s mainstream news stories. But love is patient and love is kind and love perseveres, so when we struggle with the world around us, when we are condemned and called names because our love does not precisely match up with another person’s wants and desires, our response is not to attack those who are attacking us. To do so, makes our words nothing more than a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
We must remember that God has been infinitely patient with us. It’s not that he has approved of all of our foolishness, our mistakes, our willful disobedience. But we know that He is slow to anger and abundant in mercy and kindness. If we’ve learned anything at all as disciples of the Master, it’s that we need to be patient, too. We must have patience with our critics and patience with ourselves when we want to respond with anything less than grace.
And we must remember that the source of our love doesn’t flow from today’s headline story on MSNBC, or what happens to be trending on twitter or Facebook. The source of our love surges like waves directly from the heart of God.
Trust is the child of love, for where love showers down, trust will grow.
And since it is a child, the reciprocal is also true: As the child’s call awakens a parent from deep sleep, so trust awakens the love that gave birth to it.
Provide love, trust will be born from it.
Demonstrate your trust, and it will awaken love.
So it is with a child and a parent. So it is with two good friends. So it is with any marriage. Your love may hibernate in deep sleep, but you have trust that the other holds love inside, and in that trust, love awakens once more.
So it is with the love affair between your soul and her Beloved above. Trust that He is in love with you, and your love will awaken.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Love and Trust”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I am grateful that the secular spirit of the modern world has made the medieval option of fear of God’s punishment spiritually irrelevant. I felt dignified and challenged as a teacher of Torah in not having the support of God’s punitive powers as a fallback for awakening interest in Torah. In my experiences as a teacher, I never saw Judaism as necessarily weakened by the modern emphasis on the significance to or distaste for the terrifying descriptions of divine retribution awaiting the sinner found in the liturgy and rabbinic midrashim.
-Rabbi David Hartman
from the Postscript of his book
A Living Covenant: The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism
That isn’t exactly a statement that would be palatable to many traditional Jews and particularly fundamentalist Christians, who adhere to the words “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Nevertheless, I don’t think Rabbi Hartman absolutely has to be discussing the absence of divine judgment of humanity, but rather, our human response to God. One of the criticisms leveled against Christianity is our punitive nature, both toward the secular world and within our own. I’ve heard it said more than once that “the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.” No wonder we don’t have a stellar reputation for love, compassion, and peace within the societies where we live.
Very recently, I’ve been expressing my recurring feelings of diminishment as a believer and frankly, as a human being. It seems that once you become a Christian, as far as other religions and the secular world are concerned, you surrender your passport to travel among your fellow human beings and within your society, and are relegated to a cage assigned to bigots, superstitious louts, and Bible-thumping thugs. If you actually express your faith in terms of compassion, charity, and love toward other people (and not just those who agree with you socially and politically), then repeatedly hearing what a fascist you are can be hard to take.
Time to take a deep breath.
I am deeply frightened by the growth of religious dogmatism and intolerance in many parts of the world, including Israel. I believe that a relationship to God based on fear of punishment, excessive repression, and fear of natural joy and spontaneity contributes to the growth of religious dogmatism and fanaticism.
I’m frightened, too.
I’m frightened because one of the results of dogmatism is the destruction of the message of the Bible which promotes love of your fellow human being as the primary expression of love of God. How can the name of God be sanctified if hostility and extremism is overwhelming the voice of Jesus Christ? It’s not like the Messianic lesson doesn’t include moral and ethical components. Far from it. At the heart of the ancient Judaism in which Jesus taught, is the emphasis on the laws of ethical monotheism and the universal benefits that they yield when applied to human society. But as Paul famously said:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. –1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (ESV)
I get tired of fighting but what I’m trying to fight isn’t really all of the times atheists say, “I hate Christians” or all of the times Jewish people say, “Christianity is a pagan religion.” I get tired of fighting how badly Christianity has carried the message of Christ forward into the 21st century. I get tired of supersessionism in the church. I get tired of extremist exclusivism in Christianity which goes to the point of defining itself by what it’s against rather than by the nature and character of God’s grace and love.
I’m not suggesting that Christianity “liberalize” to the point of blending into secular culture, but there’s a difference between standing on a firm moral center and using it as a blunt instrument to commit violence against anyone who steps outside of your interpretation of “Biblical truth.”
I’m tired of being blamed for a system and a history I have no control of and do not participate in. I think it’s possible to do good and be a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, an atheist, and just about anyone else. My understanding of good is the teachings of the Jewish Jesus. Your mileage may vary.
For myself, belief in the unity of God requires that one learn to appreciate the way every human being reflects the divine image. The unity of God is a challenge to find a shared moral and spiritual language between different faith communities. The declaration of Judaic faith, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One,” must lead a Jew to relate the profound sense of the particular and intimate relationship of Israel to God (“The Lord is our God”) to an appreciation of the way God is manifested in the variety of spiritual cultures existing throughout the world (“The Lord is One”). Whereas for Maimonides, correct reasoning provides the healing powers that make belief in the unity of God possible, from my perspective the power to appreciate the other, the overcoming of individual or communal narcissism, is essential if we are to act in a way that reflects belief in the unity of God.
Obviously, Rabbi Hartman’s views do not represent all of religious Judaism and they certainly don’t represent most of Christianity, since exclusivism is a requirement for access to God on a covenantal level. For Jews, the covenant is Mosaic, although Gentiles may access through the Noahide laws. For Christianity, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) is an absolutism that locks out anyone who is not a Christian and, in many cases, not a member of a specific congregation or denomination. Even in Judaism, the debate rages on “who is a Jew” which, in its extreme form, is expressed in the contrast between the Haredi Jews and secular Jewish Israel.
Time to take another deep breath.
Let’s try to set all that aside just for a few minutes. I know that most religious people fear the term “unity” because they feel it must also mean “homogeneous,” the idea that in order to have unity, you must surrender all distinctions from the other groups around you, and particularly the dominant group (which, in most cases today, is atheist secular humanism). In other words, the fear is that to have unity, you must either stop being religious, or be religious in name only while really embracing and practicing the entire package of liberal progressive modernism.
But that’s not what I mean.
In Christianity, I understand two things. I understand that God is the God of the universe and not just the God of Christians, Jews, or Muslims. I also understand that every human individual, no matter who you are (yes, even atheists) was made in the image of God. Besides being generically human, we all have those two things in common (whether you choose to recognize that or not). If God is a complete unity of One, then according to Rabbi Hartman, He created humanity to reflect that “oneness,” that particular sort of “unity” whereby we share a common drive to serve Him.
If you’re an atheist, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or anyone else, and you have a need for justice and mercy in the world, we all have that in common because God desires justice and mercy. I don’t care if you recognize God as the source of those two qualities or not, the fact remains, in spite of our differences, that we have a common need to create justice and mercy.
We aren’t going to agree on a good many things. That much is certain. But if we find something we can agree upon, let’s say it’s feeding hungry people, is it only good if you do it but not if I do it? Really, do you have to be an atheist to do good? Do you have to be a Christian to do good? Do you have to be a ...fill in the blank here... to do good?
That’s the sort of crap that’s wearing me down. Well, it’s not all of it, but if I could crawl out from underneath societal condemnation long enough to share something good with you, and affirming that we have that much in common, I’d feel a lot more lively and optimistic.
Christians are accused, and sometimes rightly so (but only sometimes) of being bigots and exclusivists. But many other human groups are guilty of the same thing including (believe it or not) political and social progressives. Inclusiveness is supposed to “include” but it often excludes people like me for no other reason than the label “Christian” I have stamped on my forehead. If you want me to listen to you, get to know you, and not judge you on shallow and superficial appearances, then shouldn’t you practice what you “preach?”
I should, too.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9). Making peace doesn’t require compromising morals or ethics, but it does require doing good and putting aside prejudice and bigotry. If Christians and Jews weren’t capable of doing that, there would have been no civil rights movement in the 1960s. We can do it, we can all do it if we choose to. Or we can choose to continue to wage this senseless social battle of defining ourselves by who we’re against rather than what we can do for good.
That’s your choice and it’s mine.
No, I don’t think this is going to work. I don’t think one small human being writing on one small blog is going to change the world. Heck, I won’t even be able to change predominant social opinion on the Internet. But I can take the moral high road just to see what happens. I can promote good just because it’s the right thing to do. I can love God by loving my fellow human being.
And I can continue to remind myself that even if no one else gives a rip, that each and every step I take, every piece of trash I pick up, every person I smile at today just because I can, is noticed by God. Hopefully, some of it will do other people some good as well.
We live in a broken world. Many of us are broken people. Only by realizing that we are all broken together can we begin to heal. One day we will all realize that our healing comes from Heaven. I know many of you don’t believe me. Let’s try out a little cooperation and see how it works. For the rest of it, just wait and see.