Tag Archives: patience

Repentance and Forgiveness in the Face of Tragedy

Even if a sharp sword rests upon a man’s neck he should not desist from prayer.

Berachos 10a

In the history of the Jewish people there were many times that could be called “lost opportunities.” Such opportunities existed, for example, before the sin of the Golden Calf, before the Jewish people entered the land, as well as during the times of Kings Saul and Solomon. Yet, the opportunity faded or did not turn into what it could have been.

-by Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov Astor
from “Hezekiah: The Messiah Who Was Not”
JewishHistory.org

I think just about anyone can be put in a situation where they feel helpless and hopeless. Even the most faithful Christian, Jew, or other religious person can face a crisis that tests their faith and trust. Sometimes that situation is the consequence of sin. Other times, it is just a life occurrence.

I’m reminded of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with brain cancer and chose to commit assisted suicide. Her diagnosis was terminal and she was given a scant six months to live. There have been a lot of arguments for and against her decision, however, I’m not writing to debate the choice she made. Suicide, at least in the case of an intelligent, mentally and emotionally capable individual, is often an attempt to take control of an otherwise uncontrollable situation. Brittany was going to die a terrible death and there was absolutely nothing she or anyone else could do about it…

…except preempt the conclusion by dying sooner and by different and more merciful means.

The sword was at her neck. But unlike the aphorism from Talmud which I quoted above, she chose to desist from prayer, if she had prayed at all, and allowed the “sword” to fall, so to speak.

Is there ever a circumstance where we are justified in giving up?

Not according to Berachos 10a which is based on the following scripture verses:

So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time, and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough! Now relax your hand!” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking down the people, and said, “Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”

2 Samuel 24:15-17 (NASB)

Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.

Job 13:15

Even total reliance on the grace and mercy of God does not guarantee a perfect life free from stress, harm, or tragedy. It certainly doesn’t guarantee that God will remove the consequences of our errors, mistakes, and sins. It also, sadly, doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen to good people, though as the Master said no one but God is good (Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19).

What does it feel like when the sword is resting on the back of your neck and you know it can and probably will fall within the next few seconds? It must feel pretty desperate.

It must feel like how the Children of Israel felt when Moses discovered their sin with the Golden Calf. It must feel like how the Children of Israel felt after they refused to take the Land of Canaan and then, once God’s protection was removed, when they tried to enter Canaan only to be routed in humiliation (Numbers 14). It must have felt like how Hezekiah felt when he was told he was about to die from his illness (Isaiah 38:1-2).

deathMost rational people don’t blame a sick person for being sick. Oh, there are probably some exceptions, such as how we might feel when we hear a chronic cigarette smoker is diagnosed with lung cancer, or when we find out an alcoholic has liver disease. Even Hezekiah’s illness was a consequence of his behavior or the lack of it, at least according to Midrash (Sanhedrin 94a):

On the night of Passover, in the middle of the night, an angel smote the army of Assyria and 185,000 died from a plague (II Kings 19:35).

Imagine — the Jewish people were staring annihilation in the face. An overwhelming implacable foe completely surrounded their last stronghold. There was a constant propaganda barrage against them in their native tongue. They had doubters from within. They went to sleep Passover night with no realistic hope.

However, they woke up the morning of Passover and the threat was suddenly gone. Someone had smitten the outstretched arm of the enemy with the sword it had raised against them.

At that moment, the Talmud remarks, Hezekiah had the chance to become the Messiah. All he had to do was sing the praises of God. Moses and the people had done so after the Egyptians were drowned in the sea. Had Hezekiah done the same he would have been the Messiah and history as we know it would have proceeded differently.

However, he did not sing. That is why he was not worthy to be the Messiah. The opportunity was lost.

But although it seemed as if God’s mind were made up as far as the King’s fate was concerned, Hezekiah continued to plead:

Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying, “Go and say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city.”’

Isaiah 38:2-6

God listened and he relented, adding fifteen more years to Hezekiah’s life. He removed the sword from the King’s neck, so to speak, at least for another decade and a half.

Of course, Hezekiah had a “track record” of walking before God “in truth and with a whole heart.” If he had been sinful and disobedient as was Hezekiah’s father, it is unlikely that God would have spared his life.

So too it is with us.

defeatNo, not all of our woes involve terminal illness, but when we plead and beg God to take the pressure off, He is under no obligation whatsoever to do so, especially if we are still unrepentant of our sins. Keep in mind, even a perfectly repentant person, if there is such a thing, may still pray to God for mercy in relieving their illness or other problems and God may, for His own sovereign reasons, not provide the desired answer to prayer.

But how would you like to face tragedy and disaster in life, whether you deserve it or not…with a conscience right with God or still buried in your own iniquity?

I’m not preaching to you or being judgmental. I’m as human as anyone and I make plenty of mistakes. I’m writing this as much for me as for anyone else.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

That quote has been attributed to Plato, Philo of Alexandria, and Ian MacLaren among others, but the words are very true. Most of us don’t show any outward sign of the battles we fight every day and when we do, it usually means we’ve come to the end of our rope. I mentioned the other day about the importance of forgiveness and gratitude, and this is like it.

When you are tempted to “drop the hammer” or “lay down the law” on someone, even if they deserve it, stop for a moment and get in touch with your own “hard battle,” and then try to realize that the other person is also fighting as hard as they can. If you expect forgiveness from God for your own sins, then forgive the other person if it is at all possible.

But before all that, repent of your own sins and ask for forgiveness from your Heavenly Father. It requires being forgiven in order to forgive.

Be very, very humble.

-Ethics of the Fathers 4:4

Rabbi Raphael of Bershed complained bitterly to his teacher, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, that he was unable to eradicate feelings of vanity.

Rabbi Pinchas tried to help him by suggesting different methods, but Rabbi Raphael replied that he had already tried every one without success. He then pleaded with his mentor to do something to extirpate these egotistical feelings. Rabbi Pinchas then rebuked his disciple. “What is it with you, Raphael, that you expect instant perfection? Character development does not come overnight, regardless of how much effort you exert. Eradication of stubborn character traits takes time as well as effort. Today you achieve a little, and tomorrow you will achieve a bit more.

“You are frustrated and disappointed because you have not achieved character perfection as quickly as you had wished.

“Continue to work on yourself. Pray to God to help you with your character perfection. It will come in due time, but you must be patient.”

The Talmud states, “Be very, very humble,” to indicate that true self-betterment is a gradual process. We achieve a bit today, and a little more tomorrow.

Today I shall…

..try to be patient with myself. While I will do my utmost to rid myself of undesirable character traits, I will not become frustrated if I do not achieve instant perfection.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Kislev 7
Aish.com

praying aloneIf you aren’t patient with yourself and you don’t believe you can repent and be forgiven by God (and even if you know that although God may forgive you, some people never will), then you will cease to pray when you feel the sword rest on your neck or even when you see it coming. You won’t trust God that somehow, in some way, this too is for the good. Remember my previous quote of Rabbi Twersky who was quoting the Baal Shem Tov:

The Baal Shem Tov taught that God acts toward individuals accordingly as they act toward other people.

I think that includes how you act toward yourself. If you give up and won’t forgive yourself, how will God forgive you?

Why do parents love their children?
Because the lower world reflects the higher world. And above, there is a Parent and He loves His children.

Why do parents of an only child have such unbounded love for their child?
Because this is the truest reflection of the world above: Above, each one of us is an only child, and His love to us is unbounded.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Only Child”
Chabad.org

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Love, God, the World, and Everything

“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
for Reuters
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.

In other words, Palestinian Arabs would not hear any love at all.

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
Chabad.org

Practicing Stillness

On the other side of ecstasy lies a painful emptiness. On the other side of bitterness lies joy. Where one goes, the other must follow.

In the ecstasy of understanding lies the gnawing pain of a new frontier of ignorance.

In the agony of yearning lies the ecstasy of love.

In the ecstasy of prayer lies the agony of smallness and distance before the infinite light.

There is no sweet song that is not equally bitter, save that which is shallow and meaningless.

He formed His world from delight, and so must share in its bitterness. Until the time when darkness will shine.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Duets”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

In yesterday’s morning meditation, I started to change the direction of the theme I had been addressing: one of fellowship and community. In my previous blogspot, the overarching theme I addressed was questioning my religious assumptions. I had been immersed in a One Law congregation, but a number of questions had come up as to whether or not this theology was valid in relation to the Bible and the will of God. For myself, I determined it was not, but it took a year of active and sometimes painful research, reading, and writing to come to that conclusion.

Now here I am again, questioning my assumptions.

One of the assumptions I built this current blog upon was the one that said I needed a different community of faith and that it should include my wife. As I have already said, that assumption proved to be false in part, and I’ve had to abandon it. Now, I’ve decided to accept whatever condition I am in relative to a life of faith as the one where God wants me and not try to force my wants, needs, or desires on my situation. So here I am beginning day two of “learning acceptance.”

My quote from Rabbi Freeman paints a picture of dualities. With ecstasy comes pain. With bitterness comes joy. With understanding comes ignorance. I’ve been trying to fight, and claw, and punch my way through what I saw as the barriers between me and what I thought God wanted, but like so many other religious people, I confused what I want with what God wants. Sometimes you just have to be still, and know that God is God. (Psalm 46:10) I suppose there are times to fight, but this probably isn’t one of them.

“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. –Matthew 5:38-42 (ESV)

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. –Romans 12:18 (ESV)

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. –Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)

I used to think all of the “peace” being discussed in these lessons was invoked through supernatural means. I’ve known almost no one in the community of faith who has such a peace, at least sustained over the course of their life. Sure, I’ve seen people have a momentary calmness, but it was always possible to disrupt it given a sufficient amount of stress. Even I have had two identifiable moments in my own life when I knew God had given me a kind of peace that was absolutely amazing, as if peace were a blanket and I could just wrap myself up inside of it. And each time, it lasted about a minute.

PrayerRecently though, I’ve been told that I need to find a way to let go of the worries and the anguish over the things I can’t control and the things that, when looked at objectively, don’t really matter. I know, easier said than done. How can I tell what really matters and what doesn’t? That’s practically a full time job. And even being able to determine that, how do I stop worrying about these things?

I know what you’re thinking.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. –Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

Religious platitudes aside, this is also easier said than done. How does one operationalize “stop worrying?” Just “do it?” That’s a great advertizing slogan for Nike shoes, but it’s a little more difficult to put into day-to-day practice. Of course, some Christians out there will use this opportunity to say that I don’t have faith, as if they were wielding a blunt instrument and gleefully striking me about the head and shoulders. I suppose that might be satisfying to those folks who don’t let themselves be anxious, (or who pretend that they don’t worry so they look cool to others) but I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to me.

But let’s look at the lesson of the Master, and what was taught by the emissary Paul from another point of view. Let’s assume it’s not just a matter of faith and an effect of the supernatural. Let’s assume (yeah, I do that a lot) that it’s a matter of practice, too. In the world of psychology, it’s called cognitive restructuring or “you are what you think.” The Bible says this as well.

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he… –Proverbs 23:7 (AKJV)

There are all manner of ways to learn to stop worrying over the things that don’t matter, and they all require a certain amount of practice and discipline. If I get upset over how people drive around me as I commute to and from work, it doesn’t help because I can’t control the other drivers. All that happens is I get myself worked up. If I get upset over my lack of community among the people of faith, it doesn’t help because I can’t control other people in other communities. All that happens is I get myself worked up and I write a lot of blogs. If I have no control over a situation, does worrying help? According to the Master as he taught in Matthew 6, no. As he said (v 34), “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Maybe being alone with God is not such a bad thing:

God is a refuge of strength for us, a help in distress, very accessible. –Psalm 46:2 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

I spent some time in the Psalms this morning and realized, in the end, all people all over the world will acknowledge God’s Sovereignty, no matter who we are or where we happen to live.

Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a maskil!

God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted! –Psalm 47 (ESV)

Solomon, son of David, wrote of his own laments in Ecclesiastes, so I’m not the first to confront my faith with my humanity. He also provided this conclusion.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. –Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (ESV)

The prophet Micah said it like this:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8 (ESV)

Since this is a morning mediation, I think it’s appropriate to end this message of hope thus:

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. –Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Amen.

Losing My Faith in Religious People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Robert Frost, American poet

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

Beshalach: Waiting for the Bread of Heaven

The purpose of the manna was to uplift those who ate it and heighten their spiritual consciousness. As a result of this spiritual boost, the Jews were able to “follow My teaching”—to receive the Torah, as it is indeed stated in the Midrash: (Mechilta ad loc) “The Torah could only have been given to those who had partaken of the manna.” (Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat, vol. 1, pp. 238-239.)

-From the Kehot Chumash
Chassidic Insights for Parshah Beshalach
Chapter 16
Based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory
Chabad.org

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:3-4 (ESV)

It may be strange to think of us today as waiting for our bread from Heaven, but I think that’s exactly what we do at times. Think about what it meant to the Children of Israel in the wilderness to wait on God for their bread. Although they had vast herds of livestock with them, they still have no reliable source of “daily bread,” especially enough to feed millions of people, morning, noon, and night. In this, they were completely reliant on God for their food and drink and without Him, they could do nothing.

As slaves, the Israelites depended on the Egyptians for their food and drink (and housing and everything else), and even though life was hard and often brutal, they were used to it, as a convict becomes used to a long term in prison. There was a routine. There were expectations that were fulfilled day in and day out. Breakfast would come tomorrow from the Egyptians because it came yesterday, and the day before, and last year, and in the days of their fathers and grandfathers.

But they weren’t used to waiting on God. They were together as a people, but they felt alone. They were free, but they were in a strange and unpredictable environment. The Egyptians were men and the Israelites understood how men could provide bread, but God is not a man and who can possibly understand manna?

So they were afraid, and they doubted, and they complained, and they tested God. This was a mistake, but it was a completely understandable one. But did God understand?

“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. –Deuteronomy 6:16 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” –Matthew 4:7 (ESV)

It certainly doesn’t sound that way, but then again, how could God possibly misunderstand His creations? How can He possibly misunderstand us, when we too are waiting for our “bread from Heaven” and we feel alone, and afraid, and uncertain?

It’s even more confusing when God sets up a schedule and then creates an exception:

Interestingly, Moses does not tell the Jews that the manna will not be in the field, but only that they will not find it there. And indeed, the manna was esoterically present on the Sabbath as well. The Sabbath is the source of all blessings, including those of material sustenance. In this sense, the manna of the other six days descended as a result of the “spiritual manna” that was produced on the Sabbath. (Zohar 2:63b, 88a.)

The physical manna gathered during the week “materialized” out of this spiritual manna. It therefore had to be acquired through physical effort: it had to be gathered, cooked, and so on. In contrast, the Sabbath manna was not manifested physically and therefore could not be “accessed” by any physical means.

Similarly, our physical livelihood is spiritually “produced” by our observance of the Sabbath. During the ensuing week, we have to gather the material blessings of the Sabbath by engaging in our weekday work. But on the Sabbath itself, we must refrain even from thinking about our livelihood. (Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, pp. 181-182.)

-Chassidic Insights commentary continued

This is certainly a very mystic interpretation, but it teaches us something beyond the literal telling of the tale of manna in the desert. Whether we believe we provide for ourselves through the work of our hands and our minds, in reality, everything we think belongs to us was produced by and belongs to God. Beyond that, it shows us that in some manner or fashion, the Shabbat rest results in producing what we need from God and ourselves for the other six days of the week. That’s why we give thanks to Him for everything.

But what about when we ask and we don’t receive, at least right away? But what about when we ask and we don’t receive, at least in the manner we expected to receive? But what about when we ask for a fish and God gives us (seemingly) a snake instead?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. For which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! –Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)

There’s a difference between what we need and what we want. God knows what we need, even as He knew what the Israelites in the desert needed. They didn’t ask for manna, but God knew they needed it. At first, they didn’t even know what to do with the manna, but God told Moses and Moses told the people. Eventually, the people got sick and tired of eating manna every single day, but God knew they still needed it on a regular basis and the gift that God gave continued to be His gift, regardless of whether or not it was received with gratitude.

We know that our purpose in a life created by God is not to be served but to serve. Jesus illustrated this very clearly here:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. –John 13:12-17

And yet, we are weak, and we need so much, and we depend on God, or we try to. There are times when we must act in order to receive from God, but there are other times when we are utterly helpless, and we can do nothing but wait.

And waiting on God to deliver His bread from Heaven is very hard. Even when it arrives, we may not recognize it for what it is, since His blessings may not come in a form we will understand. Even when we realize He has delivered His blessings, because they are not as we wanted them to be, we may be ungrateful, or hurt, or even feel betrayed that God didn’t give us what we wanted, when we wanted it, in exactly the way, shape, and form we asked for. But as difficult as it is for us, we must strive to trust God and not to question our Sovereign.

But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!” –Exodus 14:13-14 (JPS Tanakh)

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” –Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

We can trust in God, if only we will wait.

You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. –Psalm 145:16 (ESV)

His hand is opening. He’s about to help you. Wait.

Good Shabbos.