Tag Archives: parenthood

How To Build A Better Life

Writes Rabbi Twerski: the sum total of all the traits that are unique to human beings comprise the spirit that makes us distinctly human. Whether one believes that the spirit was instilled in man by God or somehow developed in the process of human evolution — the fact that human beings have a spirit is independent of one’s belief.

If one is seeking spirituality, then one must exercise his uniquely human capacities. Spirituality is thus nothing more than the implementation of these capacities, hence spirituality can be seen as being synonymous with humanity. To the degree that a person is lacking in spirituality, to that degree he is lacking in humanity.

Without including religion in the definition of spirituality, the above definition is for generic spirituality. However, for Jewish spirituality one needs to look to the Torah for direction on how a Jew should exercise his uniquely human capacities!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz citing
Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s book Twerski on Spirituality
in this week’s “Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Aish.com

Which begs the question of what Rabbi Packouz or Rabbi Twerski would believe a non-Jew’s proper expression of spirituality should be. Probably as a Noahide, but I’ve covered that territory before.

Taking a step back, what makes human beings unique and spiritual beings? From R. Twerski’s book, Rabbi Packouz lists eight attributes:

  1. The ability to learn from past history.
  2. The capacity to think about the goal and purpose of one’s existence.
  3. The capacity to volitionally improve oneself.
  4. The capacity to delay gratification.
  5. The capacity to reflect on the consequence of his actions.
  6. The capacity to control anger.
  7. The capacity to forgive.
  8. Free will.
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Granted, that people possess these abilities doesn’t mean they exercise them all the time (and some people exercise them almost none of the time, or so it seems), but we do possess them and they are at our disposal.

Please click the link to R. Packouz’s article that I inserted above to read the definitions for each of the numbered items. I’ll quote from the last one here: Free Will.

Animals are under the absolute domination of their body and cannot make a free choice. If hungry, it must look for food. It can’t decide to fast today. If a jackal sees a tiger eating a carcass, it will refrain for fear of retribution. Only a human being can be in a position with no possibility of detection or retribution and decide not to steal because it is morally and ethically wrong.

To the best of my understanding, only a human being can contemplate God and his/her relationship to Him. Only a human being can deliberately ignore God or dismiss Him as “unreal”.

However, since God gave us these capacities, we are responsible for putting them into play and in how we choose to use each of them.

That means we are responsible for not only learning from our past mistakes, but the past mistakes of our ancestors; history’s past mistakes.

Thus a world of human beings should have learned from thousands of years of anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred, but that doesn’t seem to be taking place. The Church as a unified entity (understanding that there are actually thousands upon thousands of separate denominations) should have learned that the Jewish people and Israel have not been rendered obsolete because of “Jesus,” but that doesn’t appear to be happening either. So far, humanity has done a rather poor job of learning from history, in spite of the fact that so-called “progressives” believe they are “on the right side of history” (but are they on the “right side of God?”).

I mentioned a little earlier that only human beings are able to contemplate God. Item two seems related to this since our goal and the purpose of our existence cannot be separated from God’s reason for creating each of us. And yet, how many times have you asked yourself why God specifically created you and why you are here in the first place? I’ve asked myself that question many times. I still do.

I heard a bit of dialogue in an otherwise unremarkable movie once that’s stuck with me:

Her: “People change.”

Him: “Most people don’t.”

Once we’ve locked on to a goal or goals for ourselves, we can create a plan for personal improvement and enact that plan.

Yeah, right.

OK, maybe that’s unfair, but most people, including me, get to a certain point in our personal development and then tend to stay there. Depending on what stage the person is stalled or stuck at, they can be adequate and even accomplished human beings, or they can be desperately flawed and dysfunctional.

FallingSome people make many plans and goals but fall flat at the execution stage. Others become too anxious to even imagine a plan to change and perform the metaphorical act of “hiding under the bed,” as if life will just leave them alone if they ignore it.

Fasting on Yom Kippur (or for other reasons) teaches delaying gratification. Actually, anyone who’s ever been a parent or grandparent knows all about delaying gratification.

My wife and I had our grandkids for the weekend. Actually, our son brought them over for dinner last Thursday and Friday evening as well, so we saw a great deal of them all. My grandson is seven years old, and my granddaughter is 9 months. They have radically different needs and meeting the needs of both simultaneously isn’t always easy.

Since babies need more attention than little boys, my grandson sometimes had to delay gratification. When I was alone watching both kids and I needed for feed my granddaughter, my grandson had to find something else to do besides play with Grandpa (don’t worry…we found plenty of opportunities to have adventures).

It goes without saying that my wife and I, as well as the kids’ Dad, Uncle, and Auntie, all delayed gratification to one degree or another when the children were in our home. That’s what adults do, especially when taking care of kids. That’s what you do when you love someone and you put their needs and wants ahead of your own.

Ideally, it’s what you do when you love God and you recognize what He wants you to do and what His priorities for you are. It’s not like God is a dictator or doesn’t want you to have time to relax or have fun, but as His servants and His children, we have a responsibility to Him first and foremost. If we see someone else in our world who has a need, God has given us the ability to attend to that need first because, after all, it’s the right thing to do.

Not that we actually do so all the time.

Consequences, like Karma, are a b**** (you probably know how to finish that quote). They are also a reality of life. For instance, if you choose not to pay a debt, your wages or taxes can be garnished. I think this goes along with delaying gratification.

Unless you are insanely wealthy, you have only so much money each month to work with. That means, if you are at all responsible, you have a budget. You may “flex” it a little bit with a credit card, but when all the bills come in, they need to be paid.

That means choosing to pay for necessities first, such as food, housing, clothing, and so forth, and only afterward using money to “play”. Reversing that process tends to lead to painful consequences.

no evil
Image: vintagecardprices.com

There are also consequences for “blowing off” God. They most likely aren’t immediate. We know that will be an accounting, a judgment at the end of all things, so it may seem as if God is giving you a pass with what ever sin(s) you have a problem with.

Sure, God can arrange for natural consequences. If you use drugs or alcohol habitually, all God has to do is wait for your body to start falling apart. Same for overeating (which is a big problem in our nation). Same for a lot of things. The consequences are built into many sins. For some though, you just have to stand by. Don’t worry. They’ll come. Or you can learn from your mistakes and improve your life so you stop sinning and thus avoid uncomfortable consequences.

Your choice (free will, remember?).

Every time I drive anymore, I get a lesson in controlling my anger. I’m not always successful. It seems that as I get older, I don’t have as great a capacity to tolerate traffic. Good thing I live near Boise, Idaho now rather than Orange County, California.

But going back to the example of being a parent or grandparent for a moment, let’s take another look at controlling anger. Sometimes adults get angry at kids, at least momentarily. You catch a kid coloring on the freshly painted walls of her bedroom or letting the air out of your car’s tires (I did the latter once when I was five). Your immediate tendency is to explode at them (Don’t worry, my Dad didn’t).

If you are a mature adult, you stop yourself. Really, they’re just kids. They do stuff like that. Yeah, you can create consequences for their behavior so they can learn more about right and wrong, but blowing up at a kid is just satisfying your own impulses rather than displaying good parenthood.

The same is true when you get angry at another adult in the presence of your kids. Parents fight sometimes. Some fights are louder than others. While yelling and screaming at a significant other doesn’t do you or them any good (how many people have changed for the better as a result of being screamed at?), if kids are around, it’s not only uncomfortable, it’s terrifying.

When Mom and Dad have a major emotional eruption at each other, it’s like the kid’s world has fallen apart. The two people in life who a child absolutely must depend upon and believe in have just exploded into a temper tantrum that makes Mount St Helens look like a firecracker, and that means the two people who are supposed to provide for the physical and emotional security of their child have completely failed and gone down in flames, pulling their child in with them.

divorceOK, I get it. People argue sometimes. Fine. We’re all human, in good ways and bad. But don’t do it when your children are around. That’s not being a good parent, adult, or human being.

The flip side is the capacity to forgive. But wait.

I think Rabbi Packouz (and maybe Rabbi Twerski) missed something. It’s not just about putting our own hurts aside and forgiving the person who hurt us. How about the ability to say you’re sorry, mean it, and ask for forgiveness when you’re the one who’s “blown it?”

If you indeed have blown up at someone or otherwise have failed to maintain behavior consistent with being a mature adult, after you’ve calmed down and realized the consequences of your actions, you have the option of apologizing and asking forgiveness.

Bernie Sanders recently accused the IDF of killing 10,000 innocents in an operation responding to terrorist acts initiated in Gaza. He admitted in the radio interview that he wasn’t sure of his statistics, then went ahead and uttered his outrageous statements anyway.

When later confronted with the fact that the figure was more like 2,300 “Palestinian” Arabs, and many of them were combatants, not innocent bystanders, instead of Bernie apologizing, he said that the New York Daily News distorted his statement.

I heard the radio interview and nothing was distorted or misrepresented except Sanders’ so-called “facts”. Bernie could have taken the moral high road and admitted his mistake (it’s pretty easy to make one when you don’t have accurate information immediately at hand), but instead, he chose to (in my opinion) lie about it, avoid personal responsibility, and blame others for his own inadequacies.

While R. Packouz citing R. Twerski’s list of items of what it is to be human seems pretty optimistic, it’s all too apparent that being human has some serious drawbacks. We have all of these wonderful abilities, and a lot of the time, we don’t use them or don’t use them very well.

Which brings us back to free will.

We can recognize that we are flawed, imperfect, and sometimes even damaged and dysfunctional human beings who have these terrific capacities and screw up using them more often than not.

screw it
Image: giudittagareri.com

We can recognize all that and say “screw it.” We can give up. Someone recently wrote about this on her blog. Her choice was go not give up and not give in, but to stay the course.

Moved by her struggle, I offered this:

Affirmations are powerful. They work for us or against us. Every statement we tell ourselves about who we are and what we find possible is really an affirmation. Positive affirmations build us. Negative affirmations do the opposite. So right now you can tell yourself a great affirmation: “I choose better, higher, and wiser self-talk each and every day.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The trick about positive affirmations, is that they need to be used as motivators for actual change, not just internet “memes” that sound good, but only serve to create the illusion that you already are the person you want and need to be.

Using the positive affirmation that you are courageous means that you have to follow-up by facing some difficult situation with courage, rather than avoiding it. Using the positive affirmation that you are compassionate means that you have to follow-up by showing compassion to another person, even if they aren’t very easy to get along with. Using the positive affirmation that you are productive and self-supporting means…

…well, you get the idea.

Bernie Sanders is a politician, so I expect him to lie, even to himself. However Bernie Sanders, like the rest of us, is a human being, and thus, he is ultimately responsible for using what God gave him or to face the consequences…in this life or the next.

Since he’s Jewish, as the quote I placed at the top of today’s “meditation” attests, he’s responsible for looking “to the Torah for direction on how a Jew should exercise his uniquely human capacities!”

As far as I can tell, he’s got a long way to go.

But so do the rest of us.

Where do we look (assuming non-Jews) for direction on how we should exercise our uniquely human capacities? If you are a normative Christian, you’ll probably say “the Bible” and really means your particular church’s interpretation of scripture.

If you’re someone like me, the answer is essentially the same, but the interpretation is different, sometimes really different.

I recently read a question in a closed Facebook group asked by a non-Jew who was wondering what sources he could consult to determine if we, like the Jewish people, are obligated or at least allowed to participate in specific times and practices of prayer. There was a brief but lively discussion, and the general consensus was that while we may not be obligated, we are most likely allowed to pray in a manner similar to Jewish praxis, adjusting for a non-Jewish and non-covenant relationship with God.

And all this takes us back to the question I implied at the top of today’s blog post: What is a non-Jew’s proper expression of spirituality given a more “Judaic” understanding of the meaning and purpose of the Bible, the Messiah, and Jewish Israel?

loveThat answer is our ongoing struggle for self-definition and, for some of you at least, your role and purpose within Jewish community. For the rest of us, it’s merely working out who we are to God and to other human beings, community notwithstanding. At the end of the day, regardless of who we are, who is in our lives, and what we believe, it’s just us and God.

What we do matters. Each day is an opportunity to do just a little bit better than you did the day before. With each morning’s dawn you can dedicate yourself to having a good day. With each passing day, you are building a life. Let’s all try to build a good one.

Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.

-Vince Lombardi

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What Would You Do If Your Child Was Gay?

John MacArthur was recently asked by a reader how they should respond to an adult child who has acknowledged they are gay. His parenting advice?

Alienate them.

Separate them.

Isolate them.

Refuse to have a meal with them.

Turn them over to Satan.

-Benjamin L. Corey
“John MacArthur on Having Gay Children: Alienate Them & Turn Them Over to Satan”
from “Formerly Fundie: The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey”
patheos.com

“Formerly Fundie” is listed as a “Progressive Christian Channel” at Patheos, so chances are Corey and I don’t have a lot in common, since I’m pretty socially and politically conservative. I don’t know who this gentleman is or why he needs an “official blog” for himself and his name (and based on many of the comments on his blog, I’m glad I don’t have his readership), but a link to his blog post was inserted into Facebook by a Facebook “friend” who is about as progressive as it gets (I have a wide variety of friends, virtual and otherwise).

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I almost universally disagree with just about everything Pastor MacArthur teaches, preaches, writes, and broadcasts. I found his treatment of Pentecostals at his Strange Fire conference to be typical of his highly confrontational style, and his perspectives on both ancient and modern Judaism, including Messianic Judaism, show, in my opinion, an extremely poor insight into the actual late second temple Jewish and apostolic cultural, religious, educational, and spiritual environment. He “Christianizes” every bit of scripture he touches as if he imagines Jesus and the twelve were good Baptist Preachers from the church right across the street in “Hometown, U.S.A.”

OK, that last bit might be something of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

There’s a YouTube video of MacArthur that goes along with Corey’s article. I’ll post it at the bottom of today’s “meditation” so you can actually hear what MacArthur says. I was surprised that the tone of his voice was calm, soft, and almost friendly. MacArthur isn’t quite as harsh in his language (and possibly intent) as Corey makes him out to be. But that doesn’t disguise the massive disconnect I think MacArthur is trying to sell to Christian parents of gay children.

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines

In case you haven’t read them, I’ve written numerous posts on the LGBT community within both Christianity and Judaism, the latest (before this one) missive being my review of Matthew Vines’ recent book God and the Gay Christian. I also commented on Dennis Prager’s understanding on why Judaism rejected homosexuality as well as on a number of other related topics.

Am I advocating for marriage equality in the church? No, I don’t think there’s a Biblical presupposition for it. But there’s a lot going on in this dialogue that we simply cannot ignore or dismiss.

Many of you may have read about Danny Cortez, a Pastor of a Southern Baptist church in La Mirada, California, who, after his fifteen year old son came out, decided to change his theological stance on homosexuality and became gay affirming, leading his church to officially become affirming of gays within their community as well.

Naturally, Christians on both sides of the issue made highly emotional pronouncements either supporting Pastor Cortez and his church or condemning them.

But what do you do when it’s your child? What happens if you’re a Christian and it’s your son or daughter who tearfully, painfully, comes out to you because he or she can’t stand holding it inside anymore, can’t stand lying, can’t stand hiding their feelings? What happens after they tell you and then they just stand there looking at you expectantly, fearing your anger but praying for your acceptance?

One of my sons has two male friends who came out within the last several years, and one of those young men comes from an Evangelical family.

What do you do?

At the church I attend, in Sunday school probably a year or more ago, the question came up of what the church would do if two lesbians came in and wanted to worship. A fellow, who is a member of the Board of Elders, responded, “Love ’em and learn ’em.” I don’t think that was overall support for acceptance of lesbian relationships in the church. He was likely communicating the idea that by welcoming them into the church community, over time, they would be influenced and understand the nature of homosexuality related to the expectations of God, as this church understands God and expectations.

women holding handsThe understanding, and I’m projecting my own conclusions into this scenario, is if this hypothetical lesbian couple chose not to accept the church’s interpretation of scripture in terms of their relationship and their lives, they’d be free to leave and seek a more accepting church or other house of worship.

But you can’t exactly do that with your kids…or can you? The quote from MacArthur above says that’s exactly what you have to do. If your gay kid won’t repent and continues to sin (presumably by just being gay), then you must do the whole Matthew 18:15-18 thing with them, confronting your child individually, and then with two or three other witnesses, and then finally in front of the whole church (I’ve heard of one set of parents who really did this). This is actually bad exegesis on MacArthur’s part, since the child, by being gay, doesn’t directly sin against his or her parents.

I don’t think I could stand to do that with any of my kids. Maybe I’m just a bad Christian. I’m sure John MacArthur would think so.

Of course, none of my children are religious let alone Christians, and from MacArthur’s point of view, if any of them were gay, they’d be sinners just like the rest of the secular world.

A church can make whatever official, doctrinal statement it wants relative to homosexuality in the covenant community and they’re within their rights to do so. I draw the line at being compelled to accept John MacArthur’s advice on how I should relate to my children and I imagine a lot of Christian parents feel similarly.

No, none of my kids are gay, but I’ve run that scenario through my head more than a few times. What if…

MacArthur made the video supposedly in response to a parent whose adult offspring did come out, and asked MacArthur what they should do, so in this case, MacArthur is responding to a real request for information. However, he felt it necessary to make a video and then to put it on YouTube, so his opinion entered the public realm and became fodder for response and reaction.

I can’t render a theological opinion but I can give you one based on my being a father and grandfather. I can’t “unlove” my children. Sure, they’ve each done things to make me pretty unhappy at different times over the years, but none of that made me want to stop being their Dad, to stop loving them, and certainly I never had any desire to “turn them over to Satan.”

in-the-dark2-blueResponding to a gay child by alienating them, separating from them, isolating them from family, and refusing even to eat with them won’t motivate them to “repent,” it will motivate them to never have a relationship with you again and to take their own course absent of your love, caring, compassion, and consultation. MacArthur’s advice is an iron-clad guarantee that even if the child somehow desired to “repent of being gay,” they would never do so. What’s their motivation? The (so called) love of Christ according to the “gospel” of MacArthur?

Even when Israel sinned grievously against God, God may have turned His face away for an instant, but He always, always took them back and He never, ever permanently abandoned or forsake them.

I know MacArthur feels he’s giving sound doctrinal advice based on scripture, but somehow he never factored in his own experience as a parent (and I imagine a grandparent, given his age) and how he would face his own children. Sadly, my experience (such as it is) with MacArthur is that he is so dogmatic and rigid, he very well could and would take his own advice and feed any child of his who came out as gay to the (proverbial) wolves.

If any of my kids (or my grandson someday) came out as gay, I’d end up having a very long talk with God about what this was supposed to mean for my relationship with the Almighty. What does God expect me to do, reject the very child He created to be a joy in my life? I couldn’t do that. Does that make me a bad Christian? I imagine a lot of people reading this will think so. Some of you may even condemn me (even if it’s within the privacy of your own hearts) for merely entertaining such an attitude.

But what would you do if it were your own son or daughter. Imagine your little boy or girl telling you they’re gay, scared to death of what it will mean, and wondering if you’ll stop loving them in the next ten seconds or so. Imagine that this is really happening. What would you do, not just your immediate reaction, but for the long run? How’s your moral certitude doing now?

I know I said in Is It For His Glory to avoid needless arguments (though I also quoted Pastor Michael Hidalgo as saying Christians need to get out of their protected enclaves and into the real world…perhaps good advice for John MacArthur), but I also said there are times to take a stand. I believe this is one of those times.

Here’s the video of MacArthur’s response to the Christian parent who asked what to do now that their child has come out as gay:

Believe in people and you will influence them to believe in themselves.

Your belief needs to be based on reality — so develop an eye for noticing sparks of potential in others. Be enthusiastic in selling a person to himself.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Believe in People”
Aish.com

Addendum: June 19, 2013: Today I received an email from a person named Dennis who informed me of an error I made regarding my mention of Pastor Danny Cortez. According to Dennis, the news article states that Pastor Cortez changed his theological stance to be affirming of gays in the Church before his son came out. This change in Pastor Cortez allowed his son to feel safer in coming out to his father. I apologize for misreading the news article and hope this correction clears things up.