Halloween Reflection

Yeshua… said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.”

I posted a humorous picture on Facebook about Halloween which most people enjoyed. A Facebook “friend” saw it and proceeded to tell me I was worshipping the devil and I needed to repent, and even threw “you call yourself a rabbi” into it.

The truth is, I don’t “call myself a rabbi”, I am a rabbi, and Halloween has nothing to do with it. Some people don’t like Halloween, and I get that, and they think it’s devil worship, but I can’t and won’t live my life by the notions of others. I don’t celebrate Halloween myself, but don’t condemn those who do. I don’t think the Satan is as gratified by people giving candy to children playing dress up as he is by people condemning one another and criticizing each other.

The scripture teaches that God looks upon the heart of mankind, and that we should not lift up our hearts to idols. If our heart is lifted up to God and not the Satan, then we are fine. When people go on an anti-halloween crusade, it makes their beliefs look even less desirable to a world that already thinks they are nuts. Shining the light means we should be kind, not condemning. Showing the love of God is not criticizing people who don’t see things as you do. In doing so, you have made your interpretation an idol, and are guilty of what you condemn.


Baseless Hatred

According to Jewish Tradition, the Holy Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. People hating people for having a different point of view than their own hated one another.  For almost 45 years, I have experienced baseless hatred as a Jewish Yeshua follower. Hatred because I believe Yeshua is the Messiah. I didn’t do anything to anybody. People have rejected me because of my beliefs. Fellow Jews have expressed hatred and rejected me, because I believe in Yeshua, and I experienced hatred from Christians who dislike Jews. All Christians don’t feel that way, and all Jews don’t feel that way, but nevertheless, I encountered the hate from both groups.  I once had a man shake my hand and thank me for killing his savior so he could die for his sins. I had a seminary professor become distant and condescending when he found out that I am a Jew. The hard truth is, that if you hate me for what I believe, without knowing me, you are no better than a neo-nazi.

There has been a social contract that, until recently, has said that we treat one another with civility and hopefully, kindness. That contract appears to be broken in our society.

Neo-nazis and Muslim extremists spew hatred. We have watched it slowly erode over the years.  Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries had been vandalized.  People said it was just kids, hooliganism.  Under the guise of political disagreement, Israel and Zionism was vilified.  Zionism is simply the belief that Jews have a right to live in their own homeland. It became a safe way to express anti Jewish sentiment without being called an anti-semite.  They said if you are against the political entity of Israel, it doesn’t mean you don’t like Jews.  The reality is, Israel is a Jewish state.  It is Jews living in their own homeland.  If you are against the entity of Israel, who is it that you are against?  The people who live there.  The Jews!   The Neo-Nazis continue to blame the Jews for all the problems in the world, and put it not as much on Israel, but on Jewish people.  Even the rhetoric from the churches has turned away from a positive view of Israel with a theological construct called “replacement theology.”

The hatred has opened a door that will be difficult to close. Our society is becoming more accepting of hate speech; against Jews and against blacks; against conservatives and against liberals. My question is this: If God permitted the Holy Temple to be destroyed because of baseless hatred, what will become of our society? It will not fare well for us if we don’t change our ways.

Symbols of Oppression

The latest uproar in our society is the controversy over “symbols of slavery and oppression” in our culture, primarily statues of Confederate civil war heros.  Ironically, the critics are correct when they claim these men were traitors to the United States, and yet their images have been enshrined in our cities.  Personally, I usually don’t give statues much credence in general.  To me they are something that birds crap on in the park.  It does make me wonder about the motivation for these images in the first place.  My guess would be they were there to promote the healing of our country after the civil war, to re-unite our country, re-enfranchising the south.  While it may have done that in the past, our society has changed and the sensitivities of others have come to the forefront.  To the descendants of slaves, these images do not represent Southern culture; they represent the southern oppressors of their ancestors.

Personally, I’m not invested in the issue of confederate statues.  I am not southern, so they don’t represent my heros or culture.  I am not a descendant of southern slaves, so they don’t represent oppression to me.  The fact that I don’t have a “horse in this race,” does not free me from recognizing there is more than “history” at issue.  I would have a lot of problems with people erecting statues to Hitler or other prominent Nazis.  People can easily dismiss what does not apply to them.

One of the hardest symbols for me personally, is the cross.  Jews have been tortured and killed under the symbol of the cross for over 1700 years.  The fact that the persecution and murder had nothing to do with Yeshua and His gospel itself, doesn’t matter.  In the name of the cross, Jews; men, women and children, were butchered.  The cross is a symbol of oppression.  It is so much so, that whenever our congregation rented a worship space from a church, we had to cover up the cross, because it is a sign of oppression and bloodshed.  We didn’t want to have that symbol staring us in the face as we sought to worship God.  Granted, churches who have crosses don’t intend any anti-semitic message with the sign of the cross, but it doesn’t matter.  That’s the history.  You can ignore it, you can cover it up, you can remove it, or you can learn to practice mutual respect.

In spite of the cross symbol, I respect my christian friends.  My friends respect me as well.  I realize what they hold dear, and yet offends me, is not meant to be offensive to me.  Ultimately, it’s not about symbols, but what they represent.  Neo-nazis brandishing the swastika claim they are just upholding their identities, yet they preach hate against Jews, Catholics and Blacks.  Yeshua said, “You will know them by their fruit.”  When a symbol communicates other than what you intend, you need to use something else to communicate your intention.  Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”  Yeshua said it another way; “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Loving is not so easy, but it’s always worth the effort.

Stop It

A friend of mine recently posted a meme on Facebook about a social issue using scripture to justify their viewpoint.  While I was sympathetic to the scripture, I was uncomfortable with how the Bible was being used to justify their application of the Bible to the political agenda they were putting forth.  The Scriptures are to teach the individual.  In a theocracy, they would also apply to national policy.  The problem here, is that this nation is not, and  never has been a theocracy.  Its fine to have the scriptures guide us, but they are not the law of the land any more than sharia law is or should be the law of the land.  The reason we don’t use the Bible as the law of the land is that the problem is not with the Scriptures themselves, but of who is interpreting them, and how they are being interpreted.
The issue is really about how we “use” scripture.  If we are doing anything but listening to it, and letting it guide us, we are misusing scripture.  It was not intended to be a tool to prove our viewpoints, whether left or right.  The practice of “finding a verse” to fit your political, social, or ethical proclivities, however well-intended or poorly-intended they may be is not following or obeying scripture; it’s using and twisting the Word of God.
I object and cringe when atheists pull verses out of context to “prove” the bible is inconsistent or unjust, or violent.  It’s twisting the message.  I object just as strongly to people who believe the Bible but take verses out of context to justify their agendas.   In justifying your views, you are profaning the Word of God, claiming He says something He may not in fact be saying.
The truth is, if you submit yourself to the Creator of the Universe, if you fall at His feet and worship Him above all,  you do not take His word and bend it like its  play dough to fit yours or anyone else’s agenda.  It one thing to apply a principle of scripture to guide your decision making, but to claim that YOUR decision IS God’s decision is self deception.  You are supposed to be submitting your decision-making to His word, to the wisdom of scripture,  not making it fit what you are trying to “prove.”
The worst part about it is that it makes God look like He agrees with YOU.  When God hates the same people you do, wake up!  you are in a cult mentality.  My personal recommendation is to STOP IT!.  Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will direct your path.   

Is The UN Relevant?

When the United Nations was founded, it had lofty goals of world peace.  In the years following the second world war, and the period of the cold war, the United Nations served the purpose of preserving peace in the world.  Since the end of the cold war, the United Nations seems to have outlived its purpose.  It has not preserved world peace, nor made any significant contribution toward a more peaceful world.  It appears to have been coopted by the concerns of third world countries seeking money and influence from the west.  Most noticeably is its bias against the Nation of Israel.

The United Nations remains silent on human rights violations globally, yet it singles out Israel as a prime human rights violator, which has been proven over and over to not be true.  They remained silent while Moslem extremists butchered hundreds of thousands of Arab Christians in Syria and Iraq, yet anytime an Arab throws a rock in Israel, they condemn the Jewish State.  If there is no peace in Israel, the United Nations always assumes it is Israel’s fault.  It is time to realize that the United Nations is the puppet of the Arab states, and it has outlived its effectiveness and usefulness.  The problem is not what the United Nations actually says.  The problem is that they are used as a justification for Arab states to carry out their own agendas.  They have become an excuse.  They are irrelevant, and no longer what they were intended to be.  They should close it down and turn the building into condos.


Pure and Undefiled Religion

This is the time of year when religion comes to the forefront of our attentions.  People aren’t necessarily more observant, but seasonal observances are front and center.  This is true whether it’s Chanukah or Chrismas. Homes are decorated with lights and trees, beautiful  music decorates the airwaves, we have holiday parties, foods, and we spend money on presents for others and ourselves. In all honesty, seasonal observances are fun.

I have many friends who don’t join in with the seasonal festivities.  They look at the pagan origins of some of the holiday symbols and choose to not participate, desiring to not get involved in what they feel is pagan worship.  That is their conviction, and I respect it.  Each person has a right to their convictions.

The problem I have, is not that they choose to not participate in seasonal celebration, but the attitude of some people, who in their desire for “purity,” disparage those who choose to participate in those celebrations. 

The scriptures teach that God looks upon the heart of a man. It started when Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God.  It says, God respected Abel and his offering, but not Cain and his offering.  From the text, it was not their offerings that was the issue, but their heart attitudes.  The paradigm is repeated throughout scripture.  God looks upon our hearts.  Paul makes the same point when he says in 1 Corinthians 8 that idols are nothing, and the problem is not the food sacrificed to them, but our attitudes regarding them.  In other words, pagan origins are not the issue if we are not intending to participate in pagan worship.  Most people who celebrate the seasonal festivities have no pagan intent.  

So is meat sacrificed to idols acceptable for God’s children?  The scriptures say no.  Paul said it becomes a problem if you know it was sacrificed to an idol.  The problem wasn’t the meat, but that it was lifted up to idolatry.  The festivities are neutral.  The heart attitude is what makes it impure.

According the the book of Jacob, “pure and undefiled religion” is to take care of widows and orphans in their time of need.  

Pure religion is about helping people in need.  I’m not as concerned with whether someone puts up a tree or decorates their home.  If their heart is right, it’s neither here nor there how they celebrate or refrain from celebrating.  It’s more important that we help the poor and needy.

It’s all too easy to criticize other people’s practices in the name of purity.  People criticize Religious Jews for being superstitious or following man made traditions, but never consider their heart intent.  The same is true for seasonal practices.  It’s so easy to criticize what other people do in the name of religious purity.     

True religion is not being critical of others, it’s helping others.  Religious Jews don’t eat pork, but they don’t go around telling everyone else they are wrong for eating it.  They respect the rights of others to make their own choices.   

Why is helping the poor pure and undefiled religion?  There is nothing of ritual about it.  Helping the poor is a selfless act.  It’s helping people who couldn’t possibly repay you.  It’s a godly thing to do.  

Another godly thing to do is to forgive people who don’t do things you agree with.  God forgives us for so much.  We need to be generous toward one another, and forgive people for doing things in a way we wouldn’t. Peace on earth toward men of good will. 

The Absence of Decency

The Absence of Decency

Its been several months since I last posted.  We have just come through one of the most nasty, bitter political seasons in recent memory.  More than an election, it seems to be to have been a civil war.  The division between us was so deep and acrimonious, that demonstrations erupted into physical violence.  People who otherwise are civil toward one another, have become bitter and broken off friendships.

I’ve listened to the rhetoric on both sides, and to be honest, neither side is as good or as evil as they have been portrayed by supporters and dissenters.  It has become an ideological struggle over what kind of America we want to have.  Some desire a country defined and governed by the constitution, while others wish to rewrite the constitution, resulting in a very different America than we have had previously.

What concerns me is not which side won or lost, as much as the behavior of a great many of us.  People have behaved badly.  I have been called horrible things because I hold a view that others don’t accept. Whatever happened to the words of Voltaire,  “I wholly disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  In our current social climate, the would have taken Voltaire out and stoned him, or at least unfriended him on Facebook.  I am feeling that we as a society have undergone a loss of common decency.  A loss of kindness.

Does an individual really need to agree with us to be our friend?  There are plenty of people I disagree with, but love them.  There are others who agree with me that I can’t stand to be around.   Maturation requires a humble openness to discovery within the context of firmly held convictions.  It means we listen to each other instead of waiting for the other to finish so we can “respond.”

The worst part of it, is the realization that people chose their opinions over my friendship. People who claim to be kind and compassionate, chose their political views over me.  Its painful to realize the low value they place on friendship.  This goes against my values.  I can’t look down on someone because they believe something different from me.  Its draconian, and quite honestly, the left has shown itself to be as narrow and negative as those they hate on the right.

The good thing is that not all people are like this.  Some hold their friendships higher than politics.  It makes you ask the question, how much to people really matter to you?  – and don’t twist this so as to suggest your political view is for the common good as if it is some higher justification for your view.  Everyone says that and it means nothing.  Thats just bullshit.  If you value people, then do it.  Valuing people is no excuse for treating others badly.  You can have your views, and you can feel deeply about them, just don’t be a jerk.