In Praise of Argument

In Praise of Unlike-able Argument

(Caption: You can disagree with me if you want.)

By Jane Tawel

October 2019

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Fight Light TC2 by jimbo0307 licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

A friend shared yet another article by yet another writer who claims we should not argue with each other. This writer is of the persuasion that it is not a likable trait and especially (and here he is wielding the reformulated but age-old weapon beloved by those of the Inquisition), that it is not very “Christian” to argue or disagree, especially in public forums. But no matter Christian or not, I think many people in my own country at least, and no matter their religion or lack thereof, think that it isn’t completely kosher to argue with each other. Of course, if you know me, you will know that I am always dumb enough to think I owe it to other people to jump into the ring. I really have to argue with people like this who make me feel bad for arguing with people like this. Especially when they want to play the moral tone card.

 

 

I have long wanted to make and sell t-shirts that read, “Jesus was not nice, but then neither is God.” Niceness, I’m afraid, isn’t really the point of a god or of a savior. Christianity, at least all too often over here under this flag, has turned God and his supposedly chosen people into self-serving cultists who hide behind tax-free shelters being nice to each other and anyone who agrees with them. Americans, especially, have met so little resistance to our own crusades and imperialisms that we have had no reason to listen to or debate with those from other countries. The United States has had no valuable practice in debating our desperate need to seriously rethink the beloved institutions and historical documents we have enshrined and idolized. And neither church nor state spokespersons understand why, Rodney King fashion, we all can’t just get along– as long as you agree with my point of view, that is.  Janis Joplin might rejoin that our freedom has become just another word for we don’t argue, so we can’t lose. But not losing, doesn’t mean we haven’t lost our way. Thinking we are being nice by not arguing won’t help us find our way, either.

 

 

Niceness is highly over-rated, unlike courtesy or kindness, or sacrifice in the name of love, all which seem to have become virtues we have put on the backburners, along with truthfulness, humility, and restfulness.

 

Ironically this latest article posted by my friend, was shared on social media and the article was about how we shouldn’t argue with people on social media.  Oh, Irony, how I love thee! But then irony seems to be too argumentative a viewpoint for some people today; people who would rather drift along without anyone arguing against hypocrisy, foolishness, wrongness, or the ubiquitous, “that’s just what I think”. The worst are often people like this author; those who claim the Bible says it or some famous person they quote said it, or an historically specific philosophy says it. The worst are those who use that gigantic, greatly misunderstood and little read collection of genres, which is The Bible, and who then make these bold arguments and stunt any dissent; and they do so by cutting and pasting some quip or commentary or verse taken out of the whole contextual mass, or by one of the later day additions to what some people think of as “The Word of God”. Not that you can’t do that, but if you do, please realize that by doing so, you are, in fact, actually inviting people to argue with you.

 

 

People like this author make their sweet-sounding, oh-so-rational and unemotional bullet points about how we should interact, or rather not interact, and that is usually by not arguing with people on social media. Then they get excited that people repost them on…. social media, where …no one can argue with them. Ha!  However, it is not just on Facebook or Twitter that we are unfriended for dissent; we are also strongly cautioned that we are never to debate and argue in the marketplace, or at home, or in the classroom, or in the halls of government, or at work, or at temple or sanctuary or mosque.  God help us! Personally, I would rather you give me instead, any day, the angry, prophetic, justice-seeking disagree-ers like Greta Thunberg; or the friendly, wrangling sages like Kathryn Schultz, who argue about the very basis of our thought processes and our foibles because of our fear of being wrong. Let me read the stories about those crazy old, raging prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah. And I love to sit awhile meditating on the debates among friends like Frodo and Sam and Boromir and Gandalf, as they argue over which way to go and what to do on their journey of immeasurable importance. It is because the characters argue and discuss and point out to each other their different strengths and weaknesses, that we know that one of the deep truths that the author Tolkien is teaching us, is that though each of us must ultimately make his or her own way, the journey is more “Good” and much better if we all try our best to help each other. Even if they are wrong, it is good to have companions who will disagree with us on the way, and those who will try to shed a bit of dim light whenever they think we might trip and fall. When you have a Balrog on one side of you and orcs and trolls on the other side, then losing an argument is infinitely less important than making it safely across the bridge.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are simply many ideas or statements or point of views that are not worth arguing over, and argument for argument’s sake may get the juices flowing in some people I know and love, but not in me. I have an uncle and a few friends who quite often strongly disagree with me and I with them; and we banter publicly when necessary and privately when possible, but we don’t unfriend each other. I absolutely hate any argument with my children, but I would hate even more, not loving them enough to speak my mind about something I fear could hurt or misdirect them. I love and trust these people because we can keep (sometimes) arguing with each other and we can still keep loving each other.

 

 

And as much as I really do hate conflict, I also want to be able to look at myself in the morning, knowing I tried my best with other people to make bridges, not walls. I don’t sleep well at night anyway, I may as well lie awake regurgitating someone’s arguments against my complacency or fuming over a point of view that I don’t understand, or trying to think about whether I have been wrong –maybe wrong yesterday, maybe wrong this past year, maybe wrong for most of my lifetime. Or I might wrestle with an argument and be even more justifiably and peacefully confident that I am even more right today than I was yesterday, because someone had the chutzpah to disagree with me. With that attitude, I may not like argument, but I don’t fear it. I may avoid it if possible, but I won’t avoid it if preferable.

 

If I have the time and need to say something, then I also have the time and need to listen to someone’s argument about what I said. I may as well try to learn something from someone, even if I continue to disagree. I would rather someone take me seriously enough to not like something I post or communicate and to argue with me, (unless they agree with me, of course, which is why most of us speak out, usually, right? — to gather the like-minded troops with our rallying cries.) I would rather share an exhausting volley of words, than I would like to take time to punch one more “like” button on one more picture of a cute pet. Although, I do really love those cute pet pictures.

 

 

Arguing with someone doesn’t have to mean I am shutting her out or putting down his ideas. No, actually, it is not imitation, but argument that is the greatest form of flattery. Argument means that I take you seriously and that you are worth thinking about. You are worth my time, not just to hit the “like” button, but to engage with, to converse with, to learn with. Arguments don’t have to mean I want to tear down someone, but rather I want to build something with someone. Just because we are now on opposite sides of a chasm or gulf, doesn’t mean we both can’t work together.  I am piling up stones on my side of the chasm or river, while you pile up stones on your side; and I hope that one day, we will meet in the middle on a completed bridge of  deeper understanding, and open communication, and real community.

 

 

Of course, everyone just wants everyone to be nice and to let the people we may call our “brothers and sisters”, or our “peeps”,  say whatever they want to say, post whatever they want to post, whether it is true or not, whether it is good for them, or us, or the planet or the church or the school or the workplace or the family — or not. And so, we don’t argue with them.  We also don’t argue, because we hate being wrong, and if we don’t allow other people to debate what we think, well, then, there is little to no chance we will ever be proven wrong. Staying silent seems nicer and safer.

 

 

And we let ourselves forget that silence means acceptance. Silence means you are letting someone else control your narrative. We forget that it isn’t only words that hurt, but wordlessness hurts as well. We forget how much it hurts when someone we care about gives us the “silent treatment”. We forget that one of the very worst things that other humans do to each other is to stay silent in the presence of great wrong. We forget that the thing we hate most about God, is His silence.

 

 

It is rather clever of this author, and so many like him, to take this stance against argument. It is, however, especially disingenuous to brook no argument if you are in a position of leadership, like those in pastoral or “Christian”-speakership roles, or like Senators or CEOs, or teachers or coaches or parents. These powerful people can speak out or write articles or post things about how we must avoid argument, and since no one can argue with them after reading or hearing it, they have by default won the argument  that they won’t let us participate in because we should not argue. Ha!

 

 

Brooking no debate, is of course, one major way especially in the current versions of Christianity and perhaps other religions as well, in which religious peoples have long erred and gone so very wrong. We have accepted the strange and unspiritual corporate structure and marketplace attitudes that have infected groups of human beings since the beginning of shared space and spiritual yearnings. We have become a group of sheepish followers who do not debate or struggle with truth or meaning. We accept the false doctrine that “church” or “community” or “education” is supposed to be made by having a man who stands in front of the rest of the congregation or a teacher who stands in front of a classroom, and who gets to say whatever he or she wants to say while no one else can ask questions or disagree or argue or “teach back”.

And this is where we have come as a country as well, this rotten acceptance that democracy means that with whatever power and freedom I have, I will do what I want to do and I think what I want to think and if you argue with me, you are not nice and I will not continue to discuss things with you or try to work out some solutions to the problems we share. Because like it or not, we all share the same problems on some level or other. Our problem is, we are told that we shouldn’t want to share the solutions.  And then, to feel safe from each other, and self-important, we end up creating and accepting a world with overly powerful leaders in the whole triumvirate of powers, the three- headed beast of state and church and marketplace, and we let these eventually Orwellian-styled rulers apocalyptically write our narrative because they do not have to be nice and they can no longer be argued with. That person who will encourage you not to be argumentative, is, after all, your pastor or priest or mullah, or CEO, or President, or Prime Minister, or owner, employer, or principal, coach, or mom.  And it is why, like that violently arguing prophet, Isaiah said, “all we like docile sheep have gone astray, and each of us has turned to our own way.”

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If we want to look at just one great human being who wasn’t nice and who argued with the best of his argumentative Jewish brethren and who ever since he lived, people have said you should imitate and follow, we could look at Jesus. If you actually read about Jesus, who supposedly all these churches have been set up to honor and follow, he and his followers were little to nothing at all like we tend to think of them today. It would be instructive to look at how much Jesus argued with people who supposedly believed in the same God He did, even just the bits noted in the slight records we have of Christ’s remembered life story. It would be wise to look further at Jesus as the brilliant rabbi, a debater in the temple, a teacher who listened and pushed back and lost as many arguments as the ones that he won. Even from a young age, when Jesus talked back to his parents, dismissing their viewpoint about him as their son, and when a young Jesus questioned his own teachers, he was a man who always wanted to learn more and grow more and open the door to debate to rich and poor, believers and unbelievers alike. Since oral communication with others was the primary way of learning and teaching, the greatest man and teacher and King who ever lived, did a lot of verbal sparring, open-ended debating and question-induced conversing and yes, Jesus did a lot of arguing. Arguing proves someone is listening.

 

 

It might also help some people, like this author, who look to a collection of books they call “The New Testament” and “The Old Testament”, to open-mindedly read what the people in those stories were really like. And I mean, not only Moses who argued with God, or Jacob who wrestled with Jehovah, or Leah who kept nagging God about things from her point of view; but the very people who claimed to know and follow Jesus when he lived here with us for awhile, as a human on our planet. It has been instructive for me to see the saint, Paul, as the irascible, argumentative commentator he really was; a man struggling with making sense of a new form of Judaism, and a worthy opponent who was not always right, but was always up for a good heated back and forth with the others in the ecclesia. This author I am ragging on today, happens to quote Saint Peter. Well, let’s not even go there. If we want to talk about someone, like the disciple Peter, who never waited a nanosecond to make sure he was right or knowledgeable or nice before he spoke out, and who argued with Jesus and the other disciples so much that it’s a wonder he was able to keep  silent when the rooster crowed three times. We are talking about a man, who was nonetheless, specially chosen by Jesus Christ to further the Gospel by continuing to argue with others and for his beliefs, even after Jesus was gone.  Jesus must have been howling with ironic laughter when he said, “By this hard-headed argumentative foolish Rocky of a pugilistic guy, I will further the future of my community of chosen ones.”

 

The current community of the saints was built on centuries of argument and debate, beginning with Jesus and slogging sloppily on through the wrangling of Peter, Paul, and Mary (who had lots of great “hits”, but not a theology nor seminary degree between them). The community of the saints has driven forward rather erratically but it is headed towards home only by the trial and error of argument and debate among those courageous enough to be wrong and loving enough to engage in discussions. The Good News that there is a way that we humans can know truth and love is because of writers, and prophets, and arguers of all sorts and stripes. It is because of people who dared to speak out, speak up, speak against, and speak to others, that the ideas of Jesus and his followers, and with some later-day help from Augustinian Confessions, Ninety-Five Theses arguing against a closed door, and even some wee hobbits and folks in Narnia, have thrived. It is because of people talking with each other, that the ideas that Jesus left us about how we should live are still with us, to argue about and to, first and foremost, seek and yearn after. And if you don’t believe in Jesus, look to your own best man or woman, and try to follow their arguments for engaging in meaningful dialogue with other human beings.

 

 

Instead of arguing for more understanding of the whole of anything, (which none of us can claim complete understanding of, nor can we through soundbites, bite-off all of the whole at once), most of us prefer to keep cutting and pasting ideas or philosophies or Scripture verses or newspaper items, or unrelated facts into manageable two-by-fours which we use to either whack the competing voices with or use to build a foundation for our individual towering house of cards that we have already decided to live alone in until it teeters down on us. We take the bits of ideas that we like and have secured safely, or so we think, into our warehouses of ideas, (gotten there ironically, only by the arguments of willingly or unwillingly hotly debated truths of people who have come before us), and we clip and glue small parts of the whole, taking some one single thing all out of the context of the entire arc of the whole story.

 

 

By telling others how to argue (or not), how to talk (or not), how to be (or not), we are not only losing the point of this planetary experiment, we are losing one of our best human qualities besides.  Especially for anyone who claims to believe in democratic communities or in a God, we must be willing to argue, for “Pete’s Sake” (pun intended). Because if you read the stories, or if you believe even a modicum of religious thought might be true, then you must accept that even God Himself, has some super good arguments on record, some of which He loses! A God who would create a human being, must have debated long and hard with Herself, before giving that creature free will. Who are we to not argue with that?

 

 

I personally hate conflict and argument, but I hate even more the strange place we, at least in my country, seem to have gotten to today. To encourage someone how to be like Jesus, is to inherently have debate about who He was. And please, can we let the record show that both Jesus and God even called people names. They name-called people! and it wasn’t usually funny, like it was with Peter.  Try having Jesus, in an argument, call you a “dog” or a “viper” and see how you feel. See if you still think Jesus is nice. See if you decide to take your feel-good Facebook posts and go home. Check out some of the adjectives God uses for us, “obstinate”, “arrogant”, “hard-hearted”; or God who in His many arguments with His children when He calls us “chaff”, “fools”, or “dust”. For a great story about God talking back to humans and arguing, check out His argument to the man Job in the book of that name, beginning with chapter thirty-eight and going on and on and on. And here’s the kicker,  at the end of this great myth, Job gets rewarded, unlike his friends, because he respected God enough to argue with God but never stopped worshipping or serving or loving God.

 

 

Of course, I do not recommend name calling as a persuasive technique unless you are perfect yourself , as Jesus was, or unless you are God. But today, considering how many small-minded men think they are God or The Chosen One, perhaps some of us “nice” people need to throw around a few names after all; names like “hypocrite” or “vipers” or “fools” or  “foxes” or “stiff-necked oxen”.   For those of us who hate to argue but do it anyway because we think it is the right, honorable, loving thing to do; please let the record show to those of us who want to be “good” or “loving”, that Jesus, the “goodest” and “lovingest” of all, was in an emotionally charged conflict so often,  that he had to literally flee from other people, even his family and friends, and escape somewhere alone to chill out and recuperate from the emotional and spiritual toil that his conversations took. As our mothers used to say, “choose your battles wisely” but as our fathers used to say, “tell that kid you will meet him on the playground after school because you respect him, and yourself, enough to fight him”.   If only people would spend more time competing with  ideas and throwing around words, than they did competing on sports fields and throwing around balls. If only we would spend more of our lives wielding honest discussion and loving passionate debate, than we do wielding remote controls and loving passionate fictitious soap operas, we might actually make a go of this thing called humanity.

 

 

I think that we have to keep trying to point people to the truth and to the best ideas and ways of thinking and living that we can. But I can’t assume that because I think it is the best idea, that there isn’t room for argument. We can’t be truly our best of either this or that by only posting, tweeting, writing, and gathering “likes”. We have to wrestle, even if we end up with bruises and sore brain muscles. We have to be willing to walk the narrow road of seekers rather than the wide avenue of controllers. As much as I prefer hiding my thoughts and keeping to myself, I write because I want to learn. I wrestle with you, because I wrestle with my own ideas and beliefs and feelings and choices. And I want to learn as much as I can, even from those I disagree with.

 

 

I would rather have to take down a whole lot of the weak, faulty, un-trued lines of rocks that I have built on my side of the gap between me and you, than I would to keep stacking up my ideas into a wall that no one can assail. I would rather you argue with me even if I get hurt, than I would to never reach the middle of a bridge between your side and mine. And I can only do that by looking over at what you see from your side of the chasm between what I think and what you think; and by together building something strong, and beautiful, and worthy of our humanity.

 

 

Because that is after all, why Jesus came to our planet to argue with us; he wanted to give us a shot at making ourselves better at being human together. Believing all that seems a rather foolish theory, I know, but I would still rather be a fool seeking God’s Kingdom, and to open my mouth and remove all doubt when I argue with you, than I would to wait in silence for whatever happens at the end. That is my Pascal’s wager in praise of argument.

 

 

People like this author that sent me into this multi-sided and rambling debate with myself (and maybe you), make “good points” that we all “want to agree with”; and so we erroneously neglect the true theme, the more devious purpose, and the bent  point of view of people like this. They want to wield their own power of communication without giving their audience that same power. They control the narrative. They control the “conversation”. So, while they encourage you to give up and be nice, or learn a bit more before you take a stand, they speak or write as nicely to you as all dictatorial bullies do and without themselves, giving up an inch of their stated “expertise” or power.  The opiate of the masses has long been, not religion, but the idea that we should all be nice little sheep who don’t argue with authority, whether that authority is your Pope, your President, or your BFF on Facebook.

 

 

I used to teach young people, you can’t control or craft how you write or debate something, until after you learn what it is you want to say and most importantly, why you need to communicate it.  You must write and speak freely, feelingly, unafraid of error, but also unafraid of others who may come along later and point out to you that you might be wrong. We need not only freedom to disagree, but also good conscience to listen to other people’s arguments, and to accept other people’s ways of arguing, even if they argue with passion or emotion or even with wrong facts. When did we start thinking that by listening, we had to agree? When did we start thinking that we learn best by sitting still and shutting up? Or that it is better to never risk being publicly wrong because then we never risk being publicly right?

 

 

If we continue to unlearn how to argue, and go on disconnecting from discussing, debating, arguing, sometimes fighting our ideas even heatedly, pigheadedly, foolishly; then how will any of us ever learn which of all the doors ahead that we can open are the best ones? Sometimes, while we are standing, looking up and down the roads one might take, we need a good friend to argue with us, about the different directions one might use on this path called life.

 

If we are unwilling to argue with each other about important things, belief-type things, planet-survival type things, love thy neighbor type things, then we will not  be remembered as smart, or wise or “Jesus-like” or likable beings on this planet. We will, if we somehow survive to be remembered by anyone at all, be remembered not as nice, but as lost.

 

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What Are We So Afraid Of?

What Are We So Afraid Of?

By Jane Tawel

September 2019

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(Jane and  her son Gordon with Americans and Mexicans working together in Tijuana Mexico)

 

I am confused about what people are afraid of. I see this fear infecting the whole world, but as a life-long, card-carrying American, I have to address this fear-mongering problem that is rising in my own nation, like yeast in Egypt before the Hebrews left for the Promised Land. America as an empire has long been an example of capitalism on steroids, masquerading as “democracy” or worse, giving the lie to something certain people call “Christianity”.  It makes me tremble to observe our (and I include myself) hypocrisy and power-hungry, greedy worldview not only rampaging through the world, but in true Orwellian fashion, calling ‘darkness’, “light”, and ‘hate’, “love”.

 

The most shocking (and obliviously, hypocritically ironic) are the people who are so terrified of and who therefore, have no love for the immigrant, the sojourner, the children of different races, ethnicities, cultures, or social strata. These are the people who want in now because they need to leave their homes elsewhere (often because of something we did to their homeland in the first place). These are people who simply want to live. Ironic much, Americans? Hello, calling any immigrants out there in America? Oh, yeah, that’s right, ALL of us are here because of our immigrating ancestors, except for, of course, the Native Americans who we conveniently trounced when we first came here or the slaves we brought here in the name of “more for me”.

 

 

The very fact that we have dubbed certain people “illegal” is a true indication of our rotted value system. These immigrants are not breaking the law, they are begging us for help. If you want to look for law-breakers, though, you don’t have to look to our borders. The entitled oligarchy here does tend to break the laws with impunity and not be penalized; and many of them work very little for the enormous amounts they are paid compared to what their employees are paid. And yet, there are those of us who fearfully brand things like equity and fairness, justice and mercy, and ‘doing unto others as we want done to us’, as “socialism”. Brand someone who is not like me as “illegal”, and it has the added bonus of making everything I do, as “legal” by default.  This is true for those who “serve” us in our government as well as the real people running this country– the 15% of people running mega-companies or the independently wealthy individuals and those who own 86% of this “Republic’s” wealth. If Americans are so up in arms about law breaking, so fearful of others who are not like the “average Jane or John Doe”, then they need look no further than our own beloved institutions and leaders of government, religion, industry, and social entertainment.

 

Historically this has been true of every Empire, I am afraid, and yet, all these years I have lived here and I am still always a bit taken aback when America, which was to be the “shining city on a hill”, proves to be no different. This is what I mean when I ask what values do people think poor immigrants are not catching on to? Perhaps you know different ones than I do? But any recent immigrants that I know of are hard workers, good students who often put themselves through school while holding down jobs; they are people who care for their children, parents, often even grandparents while doing jobs no one else wants to do; they are creative, grateful people who are bringing good things to our nation. Compare them to the “legal” citizens’ whose kids got into colleges by deceit and lies. Compare them to the “legal” immigrants who send their money and jobs to other parts of the world to increase their wealth, while fleecing our citizens. Compare them to our leaders who have no care at all for the health of our own grandparents and children. Compare them to the “legal” citizens who are now almost daily shooting up our citizenry with their freedom to buy weapons of mass destruction. Compare them to people who spend my tax dollars as elected officials and increase their own wealth while in office, not mine. Compare them to pastors or priests or spokespeople for any religion such as Christianity who make millions of dollars a year in God’s name and have the nerve to say their religion is being persecuted. Are those the values some folks are so anxious that our immigrants are supposed to want and have? We are picking at the specks in the eyes of the “other”, while the planks that are blinding us to our own truth, are growing at the same rate that we are deforesting the world.

 

So, I honestly have no idea, I really don’t understand what in the world people are talking about when they want somehow to “go back” to something they think America (or maybe your nation? Or maybe the whole world?)  once was.  It wasn’t; and it isn’t; and it never will be, unless that is we own-up and make it so. I’m not being argumentative, I just don’t get it. What is wrong in this country is what wise people and philosophies and holy books have tried to tell us has been wrong since the beginning of humans’ inhabitation of the earth. What is messed up in me, in you, in us is what is messed up in America. Every one and every place have always eventually gotten broken and messed up, unless and until goodness and truth and right values are either restored and rebuilt or else these things eventually die out so much that the soul of the person or the soul of the place dies along with them. But for God’s sake, or if you’d rather, for America’s sake, just because it is broken, doesn’t mean we don’t have the responsibility to actually try and fix it. But something broken can never be fixed by trying to go back to an imagined Past. It is only by embracing the Future and the hard task of living into the unknown that we can even survive let alone thrive. It is only by accepting what we have been given (not earned) for Today, with  a heart and mind filled with gratitude, grace, and love, that we can mend the brokenness within and without, and together can build something worth keeping, worth treasuring, worth sharing.

 

We have not risen to the clarion call of our ancestors, whomever we might consider them to be. What we really have done is sunk and hunkered down into the values of false pride, self-entitlement, and overarching greed. We are all a result of America’s worship of capitalism or “manna”, in the name of nationalism (selfishness). And all of what we are so anxious to hang on to for ourselves are not valuables based on the moral high-ground of some belief system, but are the result of our true values, which are nothing to do with democracy or justice or freedom, and definitely not anything at all to do with goodness or love or God or Christianity or any such ideal.

 

If you want to spiritualize, which I obviously always tend towards, we “must be born again”. That means, at a minimum, that we must humble ourselves and become like little babies, not in a selfish way, but in an innocent, anticipatory way. As newborn “citizens of the world”, we would have to accept that we each and as a whole have a gigantic amount still to learn. Being born again would mean that just like a newborn baby, I can not differentiate between colors. As a baby, I don’t care what color you are or language you speak, or how old or calloused your hands are when they hold me, or what you believe in as long as it includes a belief in love, or what you eat for dinner, as long as I too, am fed. As a baby, I am not afraid of tomorrow, because today, it is enough to be alive.  And like a baby, I need you; and I have an innate, as yet unformed idea that you probably need me, too.

 

Tragically, our current identity in America has nothing to do with any ethical values that supposedly this nation or our supposedly major religion of choice were “founded on”. And although historically and factually it is highly debatable that either were in fact truly founded on these grand ideals and sacrificial selfless morals, there are still just so many truly good people trying to do good things, that if we can all just stop being afraid of the wrong things, there is great hope. We can still hope that more of us will actually want things like justice for all; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; all people viewed as equals; and just some straight-up real love of others in need. These are still very, very, very good ideals to strive for, both as individuals and as a nation. Don’t we want more people coming here who want to share those values with us?

 

Immigration, legal and otherwise, is a red herring in our national myth. I keep looking for those people who claim that America is the new Israel (God forbid if you actually read the Tanakh), or Christ’s Kingdom on earth (God forbid if you actually read the Gospel). But our actions speak lies louder than our words speak truth. So, feel free to espouse the values of self-first, that is very American. Feel free to espouse the values of I don’t want to share, that is very First World.  Go ahead and gripe and complain about what the people in power are doing or not doing if they are not on your team and go ahead and support the ones on your team no matter how much they lie and steal from you and the world at large.  Go ahead if you want and say, “I just don’t want any more people coming here”, fine, at least that is honest, although indefensible as a good ethical stance. But for the love of God, don’t claim that these ideas have anything to do with either American ideals or Christian values.

 

Real values and honestly earned virtues are hard things. A life of value does not come easily and will not stay, if it is not pruned and weeded. Fear is the antithesis of ethical living. And yet, as the greatest humans have always known, a life of true value without fear is also paradoxically very simple. “Love God as He Is and Love all others in the same way you love yourself.” “Pray humbly for your daily bread and let it be enough until tomorrow.”  “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” “Love conquers all.”

 

Remember we all come from the same dust, and we all yearn for the same eternity.

 

It takes so much misguided effort to somehow do the mind -gymnastics or spiritual -voodoo necessary to say or think that we who are currently on top of the heap and who lead today in this nation, in these halls of justice, in these religious temples, in these mansions, and conglomerates of industry, deserve what we have while those who want in, do not. Many of us have of course come about our station by sincere virtue but none of us is here through something uniquely “value-able” to America. America is so obviously struggling with our worship of the false idol of capitalism. For people to continue to try to convince me that the issue of immigration specifically, but also the other important ethical issues of our times, are about claiming our superior ethics or morality or values, or God forbid, to somehow think that self-serving ideals or fearful hoarding of resources can be anything at all to do with democracy or Christianity, well… I am confused and I just don’t get it. But I am not confused about how afraid that makes me.

 

Blessed will be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

 

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“The fears” by giltay is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

Do We Really?

Do We Really?

By Jane Tawel

February 3, 2019

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All the assumptions we make.  And we just take it all for granted that because we call ourselves something, label ourselves something, that these things are true.  And we like them to be true because that is what gives us personal meaning and usually a paycheck or two.  One of my favorite sayings of the current younger generation is when someone says something, and they sing-song with a bit of Socratic sass: “But is it? Is it really?”  “Was he?  Was he really?”  “But did you?  Did you really?”  With the emphasis on really, this seemingly silly question has all the power of Pilate’s “What is truth?”  I imagine if Pilate and Jesus were talking today, as they did in John 18, their conversation would go something more like this.

 

Jesus :“I have come into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth, hears my voice.”

Pilate: “But do they?  Do they really?”

 

Here are some assumptions I hear people making, and being the stickler for the needed role of an antagonist in any good story, I will present how one might wonder about the “truth”  of things people base their lives, livelihood, and even salvation on.  This of course is a partial list of just my own particular meditations today.   We can add on to these and ponder them for eternity; or rather until God’s Kingdom comes. Then the fat angel sings and it’s game over.

People say a lot of stuff about what “Christians” believe.  Here is some of my personal “Socratic” dialect about some ideas that I have been struggling with lately. As is my bent, I will open my stream-of-conscious rather bent and banged up thinking here.  I will use the second person “you” as a more colloquial version of the more proper third person “one”, meaning of course this is at heart, a first person reflection in the final analysis.

  1. We should lead like Jesus. Jesus was a good leader. But Jesus proclaims himself not a leader at all but a servant and follower. In fact, Jesus flees the leadership role that could make Him a king of nations.  Jesus flatly states that he can do nothing in His own power but only what His Father, Jehovah, does through him.  To put the final “nail in this coffin”, It is very clear that when we are judged, if we have been a leader, we will have gotten our reward while on earth.  Only those who serve as and with the least of the least will be chosen to lead with The Christ. We may all be created as equal, but we do not go through life as equals which brings us to false idea #2.
  2. All human life is sacred. There is, I am afraid, nothing at all in the Bible that implies this. The metaphor found in Psalm 139 is merely that, a personal poetic reflection on the part of the servant of God and chosen Jewish king, David. This current Western idea that each human life is special and sacred is purely a religion born out of Humanism and wealth and the warping of “Christian” thought. This humanistic, individualistic religion that we erroneously call worship of God is nothing more than worship of self, and is not a Judeo-Christian worldview at all. I could go on and on with proofs from God’s Word about this but read it for yourself from beginning to end and you will wonder how we got to believe that each human is sacred.   To give you only one indication, read the story of God and Sodom and Gomorrah and of Abraham’s plea for God to save just ten people worth saving. This idea that a human life is sacred is blasphemy in fact. There is none sacred but God, the Bible says.  We can choose covenant with God and be chosen in that way and only in that way to have a life that is more than dust.  But it is by our keeping covenant with God and living as The Son of God lived, that we become holy, sacred, eternal soul. I am afraid it is an incredibly important thing to think through in this day and age of the rather (sometimes literally) “Micky Mouse” -Americanized- Christianity-ese. It is  critically important because people use this idea of all life as sacred to be “pro-life” about the abortion of unborn fetuses, but not “pro-life” about the born lives of illegal immigrants or not pro-life about people who do not vote or worship as they do.  People support this idea of each human as sacred, in the ridiculous worldview that you can “ask Jesus to be your  Savior” and then he is because “God loves you no matter what”.  There are so many “Christian” songs that flat out say this over and over and it makes me tremble because if you read the actual tome that we call God’s Inspired Word”.  You will realize that:
  3. God does not love you no matter what you do. There is absolutely no indication in God’s Word that this is true.  Let me just give you one example: Moses. Yeah, that star among God-followers.  God was going to kill Moses and then – well, read the story for yourself of  Moses’ wife, that wonderful pagan woman called Zipporah.  Which brings me to this.
  4. God is not my friend. God is not that friend Who comes whenever I call Him to help my team win the game.  God is God.  Again, read God’s Word.  Actually read it; don’t show up to have the experts tell you on Sunday how much they love you because Jesus  loves you and died for you.  He didn’t. Jesus, a Jew, died for a Holy God, his Father, Adonai.  Jesus completed the whole cycle of being human in perfect covenant with a Holy God. Jesus died to show us that we could be reborn through our own deaths (both literal and figurative, as He did)  if we lived in covenant with Yahweh, as Jesus did.  Jesus is very, very clear that He did not come to throw out the Bible, what we blithely call to our peril, the “Old” Testament, but to fulfill and live it as it was meant. Not as the religious leaders had interpreted it but as The Christ lived it. We are meant to live it too. But it is not this wide road that is easy to stroll down because your own particular life is so sacred. Nope.  It is a narrow road that you choose, but as Robert Frost said, that choice will “make all the difference”.  I should be different because God loves me enough to make me different enough to be with Him. Which bring us to #5.
  5. God loves me. Well, yes and no.  God loves me but not because I’m me.  The Bible tells us that God loves “the World”. God made the world perfect and He made humans perfect. And then we messed  ourselves up and messed up the world and continue to do both of those things.  Read the bits in the Bible about how God “chastises and disciplines those He loves” and then decide if you want A Holy God to love you.  Because frankly most of us live like animals.  This is where those who don’t believe in God have it partially right.  We are like animals and we can choose to live like animals if we want; “eating, drinking, and being merry” for tomorrow we die. And that’s it.  Scripture implies that if we live long enough, we get three choices in this world: 1. To live for self and get as much as I can for me and my family, just like the doggie families, and ape families do. When my days are over enjoying this wonderful life, I will either lay down with gratitude or regrets or a mix of both, and then return to dust and cease to exist. The place of buried animal bodies, or the ground from which no man returns, is what the Bible calls Gehenna.  2. If on the other hand, you lead your life and choose to be cruel, wicked, to abuse God’s name, to abuse power, to abuse others, to enjoy evil in word and deed,  and perhaps even if you just commit those things we call the sins of omission, ie not doing the things you were meant to do for Good; then God is pretty clear you will be punished even after you think you escape judgement through death.  Those people will go to hell, complete with the demonic gods they have enjoyed while alive on earth.  3. You can spend your life living on the planet as best you can in relationship to a God we can no longer see. We can no longer see God as Adam and Eve could, because we have chosen sin instead. But God provides a way “back to The Garden” so to speak; and that is by following the rules, worshiping only Jehovah, and loving others as we love our own selves. This is the option we have to live in a covenant with  The One True God, Yahweh.  These people live to glorify the name of Jehovah, live for the least of the least in this world, study Truth, learn how to love and trust and hope again after The Fall, and resist the temptations that The Christ did: those temptations of power, greed, and self-worship.  These people will rise from death to a new earth and to even something  new and unknown – a “Heaven”, the place where at last we can be in the same space as God is and not die. These people will see God and live.
  6. Everyone wants to go to heaven. No, they don’t. You  may have been taught that you will go to hell if you don’t listen to Christians. Well, ironically the only people Jesus, the founder of the little Christs sect, says will go to hell, are the leaders of the religion he practiced.  Matthew 23:15:  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” This is sobering to say the least for any of us who have taught any thing about Jesus.  And while, I have always loved the practices and people of today’s churches,  the incremental off -course steering that The Church has done for the past centuries, has us so far off course as to frighten me. Which brings us to something we might call semantics in #7, but semantics are crucial to explore when you are thinking about Jesus who is called The Word.
  7. Jesus loves his church. He doesn’t.  He couldn’t because he never used the word and there was no such idea as we now know “the church” in any of Christ’s teachings. In fact, in what we call the “New” Testament, another scary thing we’ve come to believe, there is not a single time the word “church” is used.  Church is a misinterpretation of several Greek words.  Again, you can read and google this for yourself.  There is, of course, much proof that to follow God, we must live in communities, caring for each other and worshiping together.  There is much proof that we are to live as followers of Christ with others who want to follow Him, like his disciples did. But the point is, we have turned the religion of Christ (and by extension of His early followers, including the people who wrote the Gospels and Paul) into something they would neither recognize nor I would venture to boldly say, would they approve of.  So let’s just say this for now.  Jesus was a Jew. Jesus believed that He was the Messiah of The Chosen People who were the Jews, the Hebrews.  Jesus believed that it was through the Jewish Scriptures  and lives of the Hebrew covenant keepers that God, The Father is best revealed.  He also believed though that the Jews had abused their status and that “there would come a day when God will be worshiped neither on the Jewish Mount nor in the chosen confined temples of any other peoples, but by all peoples in “spirit and in truth”.  Then He claimed that the day had  in fact arrived with His way – The Way – of worship of God. Jesus did not come at all to form a new “organized religion” and we have programmed and capitalized on Jesus’ beliefs out of all recognition and wisdom. The main word that Jesus used that should make all the difference in our understanding of who He was / is was not “church”, congregation or synagogue.  The word Jesus used was “Kingdom”.  And He did not preach His own earthly kingdom, but The Kingdom of Yahweh.  Which brings us back to the “really”, “is it really” of #1, in #8.
  8. The Gospel / Good News is that Jesus is the only way to heaven. No, He isn’t.  Jesus is the only way to The Father.  And Jesus came to bring The Kingdom of The Father back to our understanding and to make available the germination in us  of how The Father’s Kingdom can be restored to our world / planet/ Eden. What Jesus taught is that: “I am The Way (to God), The Truth (about God), and the Life (with God). No one comes to Jehovah except by means of my way.”  In fact, this is why early followers of Jesus who were Jews or converted Jews would never have called their religion “Christianity” because it wasn’t.  It was Judaism.  They called what they believed what Jesus called what He believed: The Way.  If you don’t want to truly know a Holy God and become holy, you won’t go to “hell” (necessarily).  You will merely have enjoyed a good or an awful life depending on your status, personality, and circumstances and you will return to the dust of this planet like all animals and plants will.  Nothing wrong with that choice.  If however, you think that you want to live forever in the presence of God as we were intended to do in Eden when humans were created in the image of Divinity, then it is best to try to figure out how we are really meant to live now.

Because claiming to be something, doesn’t make it so.  I would love to claim that I am a gorgeous twenty-three -year -old with a million dollars in the bank and five houses in various parts of the world and a private plane and that every one who meets me loves me and that  I could rule the country, maybe even the world in the way it should be run, and  that I get do-overs on every minute I’ve messed up and that God loves me no matter what.  And you would have to ask me with all the Socratic sass you could muster, “ But–Are you? Are you really?”

If you think Jesus did all the work for you, or that because you were born into some cultural religion or other, or that just because you are alive, that those facts– which the Bible says, fall randomly like rain, on the good and the evil — that those facts make you something you want to be; and that God loves you no matter what; well then, you may want to look around at what we are doing to God’s world, to God’s other children, to  our own bodies and souls, to God’s planet, and what we do in blasphemy of God’s Holy Name, and you may want to humble yourself; and ask yourself when you think you have it all figured out:

Do you? Do you really?

 

Stay Anonymous by Jane Tawel

Stay Anonymous

By Jane Tawel

September 11, 2018

I’m Nobody

Who Are You?

Are You Nobody too?

Then there’s a pair of us – Don’t tell

They’ll banish you know.

How dreary to be Somebody

How public, like a frog

To Tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog.

**Written in 1891 by Emily Dickinson

 

I have recently observed people in power from my outsider’s view as a Dickinson -ian “Nobody”.  I have of course, worked for people in power. Many of the people I have worked for or with are professing Christians, and many of them have achieved a power that has sadly become so masked by “feel good” philosophically excused uses of power that they have no remaining understanding of the dangers of human or national power.  There have in my experience, been several of these powerful leaders who adhere to a particularly odd rule that they will not even read anonymous notes addressed to them, let alone take them seriously  unless the anonymous person “reveals” herself or himself. They claim that there is something subversive, something unethical, about not being willing to put your name on a message.  These powerful men, (and they are most often men but not exclusively so), can take that line in the sand stand because they have enough power in their particular sphere of influence to say and do what they want to and let the chips fall where they may –because of course they assume that like always the chips will never fall –because they have power. And so it goes round and round. But frankly  from the peanut stands here, the anonymous collective opinion is that the very notes leaders should be reading are the anonymous ones.  The notes we should be reading as Americans today are the anonymous ones – not just the current famous one, but all the anonymous “notes” of anonymous people without power trying to speak truth to power throughout our long and checkered history.

 

It is true that one reason people speak anonymously is because they are afraid; but they also speak anonymously because what they have to say is so true that it should brook no argument and yet, because we have gotten to a point in our history as humans where we  seem unable to even admit we are wrong or mistaken,  or uninformed, let alone,  that we are sinful or evil; people will  not admit they are ever wrong and will even argue outrageous lies and not be held accountable. If we cannot accept we are wrong then we definitely can not change course and stop being wrong. And because of this widespread disease of self-justification and self-righteousness and just plain pig-headedness –anonymous speakers know that the argument for and revelation of Truth will be used by the people in power to silence or muddy the truth.  These necessary truths can include correctable truths like  pointing out that what a leader said showed prejudicial views and should be corrected to revealing larger and larger truths  like  money is being spent in wrong ways by our leaders or our leaders are using their power to abuse children.  If I received an anonymous note, would I be obsessed by wanting to know who it is from – yes, that is natural –but would I discount that there may be some truth in the message that I need to listen to – I pray not. I pray I would want to know the truth if it is meant to change something, to better something, to create something good, and not a truth meant just to punish or shame. I hope I want to learn and grow from truth,  no matter how much it might hurt me.

 

Especially anyone who wants to claim a Judeo-Christian worldview should take these unsigned notes coming anonymously as spiritually serious.  You see, if there is fear created in people who work for or with us, then that is quite plainly not “of God” as much of Holy Scripture advises us. (2 Timothy 1:7;  Matthew 10:26-28; etc.).  The second reason is that if someone writes to me anonymously then I must understand that my natural inclination is to protect self-interest, to defend myself, to not admit wrong or sin, so  that I am actually, by the very anonymity of the writer, being lovingly – yes – lovingly! – honored by this person writing without name to me because they care enough – yes care! – about my changing for the better for my own soul’s sake. Do I put the anonymous writer on too high a pedestal? I hope so because of course the writer is in this situation, the “least of these” that the Bible tells me I will need to treat justly lest I be judged lacking someday by the God-man Messiah who came to be the least of these among us.  Jesus didn’t even write to us anonymously – He didn’t write to us at all.  He was so certain of His mission and His understanding of God’s True truth, as revealed in The Hebrew Scriptures and as revealed in His close relationship with His Father, that He didn’t write to us at all.  He didn’t need to because it was already written in God’s Word, in God’s World, and in God’s Nature. Jesus simply lived powerlessly amongst us and  because of His radical choice, He now lives in absolute power at the right hand of God –because of that choice of laying down all the power in the world to the glory of God and the salvation of His people. My dying to my own sense of power is the only way to ever live eternally in the power of the resurrection. I can’t be made whole, new, perfect, if I am clinging to the imperfect powers of self and  of this place and time  in which I  temporarily live.

 

The reason people write anonymous notes is because they don’t have power and think that speaking their truth to a person in power is critical and important enough that they must do so . They of course also may not want to risk losing their jobs. They may not have a golden parachute or a non-disclosure clause or a helpfully rich relative.  There are times of course when people must risk their jobs to do and say the right truth. There are times people risk  not just their livelihoods, but even their lives to speak truth to Power.  But as a little person who has many times felt compelled to speak truth and who has also supported anonymous note writers in their choice of anonymity, I will tell you that I think the real subversive actions are from  those people who have power and will not use that power to look within themselves and figure out why someone is so afraid  or so sure –that they must remain anonymous. The times I have felt compelled to speak truth to power, whether boss, relative or sojourner in Christ, still in remembrance, hurt my heart. The times however, that I did not listen to True Truth spoken to me, hurt my soul and that is more painful and harder to course correct by far.

 

Especially people who claim to follow Jesus as The Christ, should be humble enough to understand how their own power has perhaps blinded them to truth or to the different needs and inferior power structures of “The Other – the Biblical “lesser than’s”. Anonymity reveals needs just as much as signing one’s name to needs, and what anyone with the power to address someone else’s needs  should do with that power  is to follow Biblical injunctions to “die to self” and give to the least of these. We modern day Pharisees and Sadducees are the truly blind guides, the truly subversive abusers of the Good News, the truly unethical, and when we judge the anonymous writer we are leaving the planks in our eyes and judging the speck in theirs.

 

Jesus often told those He healed to stay anonymous and allow Him to remain anonymous from the powers of Rome and the powers of Religion – at least a little longer so that He might heal more, bring Good News to more of those with ears to hear and eyes to see.  Several of the writers of the remembered actions and stories about The Christ were anonymous amalgamations of people who chose a name to put on the Gospel. – decades after The Christ died and rose again.  These Gospel writers weren’t of course anonymous during all the years when the Gospel was orally spoken throughout the world, and so the religious and national powers of the time could kill them for speaking non-anonymously. Paul, who probably often wishes today from His heavenly view, that he had written his letters anonymously so people couldn’t abuse now what he said then, often used his eloquent words to speak to the idea of power. But those aren’t the popular bits that Christians in power today are fond of. We are too contently busy protecting our power and not busy enough taking a knee.

 

I started to write in my first paragraph that I have never wanted to be one of the powerful ones, but that would be a lie. As a parent, I can cringingly, with deep remorse, remember abuses of my power over my children. As a woman, I can remember abuses of my power. As a wife. As a teacher. As a friend.  As a white person. As an American. As a brother or sister in Christ.  Because you see, we are all sinners and all choose, sometimes daily, to eat from the apple of power to use good and evil for gain.

 

As a parent, it took me forever to realize that parents have necessary power  for so long over our children that we have a hard time seeing when we are abusing it or when we are wrong. And we can see this played out on our national scene and in our churches today – this inability to give up one’s power and admit that you – or the horse you backed – or your pastor, pope, priest, or president is wrong; and  then to realize that even powerful people should be informed, chastised, held accountable, and helped to do something differently than he / she has been. Frankly,  sometimes for our good and their own eternal good, these people need to be removed from that position of power before the consequences multiply – for all  involved souls, large and small. You see, we are all sinners, all wrong, all mistaken, and  all eventually powerless and no matter our name, we end the game the same. Hence, we are in this together. We must all recognize that our nature is to abuse our power, no matter how rich, how poor, how weaponized or nuclearized; how democratic or “Christian” we are – Nations included; churches included; businesses included – I included.

 

Our human nature is to desire power in one realm or another and that is a gift,  as long as that power recognizes first, that it can never remain if it keeps trying  to usurp God’s inherent power and that secondly,  it can never ultimately succeed if it keeps trying to usurp another human being’s inherent  and spiritually equal power. We are created to use our personal or national or religious powers for Good.  But of course the mythological telling of The Fall of Human kind is based on the True Truth that all human beings, men and women alike, long for the power that belongs to God and  long for the power that belongs to some one next to them, and long to use that power for the knowing use of good AND evil. And in this we sin daily by abusing our natural powers to become un-natural, ie what we were not created to be.  We also have tragically misused this power given to us as humans in our sins against the power of nature; this power that was given to us in order  to serve the needs of our planet as overseers. We have destroyed not just other humans but the natural goodness of the earth. And we become more and more powerless in that realm because power abused is always power unloosed. Here in lies one revelation of the Christian worldview that “we fight not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers”.

 

It has been good for my soul to become a little gray -haired nobody. What has been hard for my ego and sometimes hurtful for my pocketbook has been glorious for helping me to walk “further in and further up” as C.S. Lewis might say. Walking in the shoes of people who experience prejudice their whole lives, not just when they are old women has brought me closer to the Messiah who turned our idea of power right side up from the upside down view we prefer as power-hungry sinners. Observing the hypocrisy rampant today has forced me to make different choices myself and to strive harder to act out, not just preach out Good News.  I am reading Holy Words and  those who illuminate True Truth, whether they write for Christianity Today, The Los Angeles Times, or WordPress with new intent on how to live rightly and fervor in how to look inwardly and outwardly at myself and others with those things that remain: faith, hope and the greatest of all, Love.

 

I am more cognizant and accepting of the reality,  that the days of my life in which I have been the most  of a “nobody” have been not only the best days of all, but also the days most like what we are told  we will live in a new Heaven and new Earth. Being a nobody is truly the path to freedom, joy, and Jehovah’s Kingdom, where my name doesn’t matter; only the Way, Truth and Light matter – only He matters.

 

I am reminded of the verse I chose to be a life verse, (while the Angels watched and howled with laughter at the ironic  Bible verse choice of this power-hungry but pathetically weak human). I chose this verse oh -so -naively when I was a high schooler and full of pride, ego, self-righteousness, and misguided power.  It is from a letter signed by Saul, who changed his name in order to give up His power and lay down his life as His Savior did to the least of these. For Paul he gave up his power to serve not only those in his camp, the Jews, but also the Gentiles who desired to be part of God’s people, Jesus’ Jews.  My verse, Galatians 2:20 reminds me that “I am crucified with Christ, yet nevertheless, I live.  Yet not, I, but Christ lives in me.  And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith, of the Son of God –Who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

 

See, one of the things about being dead -dead is that you eventually, no matter who you were – President, Pharaoh or Pope – become unknown, anonymous, a nobody, dust.  But we who believe in the Hebrew God  of Revealed Power, and  The Holy Scriptures that reveal True Truth, believe there is a way out of eternal death and into eternal life; a way out of the anonymity of human beings who are from dust and to dust will return; a way into being known forever with a new name that will be our identity known forever, seen forever, living in the light of truth forever in Yahweh.  But unless I become that which is dead to self before I physically die, then no matter how big the lights of my name today, no matter how much power I yield, I am a nobody. The Way of The People who want to claim to be little Christs is only walked by dying to being a somebody in the service of King Jesus, who became a nobody to live with us –yesterday, today, and forever. We become a part of the Some-Body of Christ only by becoming a Nobody to ourselves. It is through giving up the power of our own flesh and desires to honor and serve in the life of faith in the Lord the giver of Life, Jehovah God.

 

Sometimes dying to self for the greater good, means leaving a job that is sucking the soul out of you. Sometimes it means going to a third-world country to bring some good news; and sometimes it means letting a third-world country experience living freely in the good news of your own country. Sometimes it means speaking out for black men in America by taking a knee with them. Sometimes it means giving a twenty to a homeless person and foregoing the McDonald’s drive through. Sometimes it means protesting our current Babylon / America’s injustices, one border atrocity at a time.  Sometimes it means losing your job or getting suspended because you walk out against gun violence.  Sometimes it means speaking truth to people in power,  standing shoulder to shoulder with others or all alone, with your own name proclaimed loudly enough that you might even get killed.

 

But every once in awhile, dying to self, means that you remain anonymous because you know deep inside, that you don’t matter at all and that ultimately, True Truth has a way of fighting its own battles. And that Truth will set you free.

 

And for some of us in power dying to self means  not discarding but in fact, reading the anonymous note written to and perhaps even about us,  and then humbly, contritely, giving up the ultimate power of being right and joining the eternal cast of nobodies.

 

We may choose  to be like the multitude of somebodies that this world assures us we all can be. We may choose to use our gifts not for making the world a better place but for making us more powerful, for getting us ever more stuff than we need. We may walk in that wide way of the world and think we are somehow being unique and special. Aren’t we  encouraged that we can all be Greatness and Power just by our own desire to “Just Do It”, right?

But some of us in order that someday “we will be like Him”, may choose to be nobodies. Because He became a Nobody. We may choose to walk humbly before God, no matter our title or resources, and to give unto others as we would desire to have given unto us. We may choose to believe that it is true Truth that some day we will only have left what we gave to the least of these and that all our skills and talents and powers will be dross and dust. We may choose to believe that only our Love will remain. We may choose to lay down our lives as if we were nobody just like a Nobody from Nazareth did for us. And only with that choice, which might include  choosing to be changed by and live by the words not just of famous but also of anonymous writers,  are we assured that one day, we will be Somebody worth being. We will in fact be with Somebody, worth being.

 

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“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (As recorded as the words of the Nobody from Nazareth in the Book of Matthew)

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Law, Kid

 

“It’s the Law, Kid”

World View Check #3

By Jane Tawel

June 20, 2018

Periodically I post what I consider a Worldview Check in words written by authors far more wise, capable, and mind-blowing than I could ever be.

The following from Garry Wills’ What Jesus Meant was written in 2006 but is a newly read ironic, funny and searing  look at where we are today. I would also highly recommend a re-reading of Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (2008) and Andy Crouch’s Playing God (2013).

We live in a nation that needs a serious reality check on what God has actually said to us. We use His name in vain to our peril and use His Word to justify our actions to the peril of other people throughout the world, most recently those seeking asylum at our borders.

As we make enormous paradigm shifts in our misuses of the idea of law versus justice; as we bestow mercy for self but not mercy for the least of these; as we defend one type of religious practice as Christians ( think t-shirts and cakes) but not others (think aliens and prisoners); as we look at certain sins differently in our own lives, while out of the other sides of our mouths claiming that God sees all sins as equal; as we worship with cheaply bought grace when we are not busy brunching; as we live in this way, we are left with a choice. We can either:  Re-educate ourselves, re-align ourselves, and restore ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit and the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and the Love of the Creator Parent of us all; Or we can continue as we are.  I just recently realized: I don’t want to continue as I am.

Don’t read the Bible or any of the books I have mentioned, if you do not want to: contemplate mystery, confront hypocrisy (both within yourself and others), and sense God’s humorous humbling of us through His word, His very flawed followers, and through a truthful reading of the world’s history.

Do  not read further if you do not want today to wrestle with hard truths. I am often pinned to the ground and counted out, but wrestling, nonetheless. Before reading Wills clever deconstruction of our cherished views on God’s word and the law, I found it helpful to meditate on the following ideas from Jesus and the Bible Jesus read.

Jesus: To whom much is given, much is expected. (Luke 12:48)

Jesus:  I came not to abolish the laws but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

And from the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. (Luke 23:34)

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein”. (Luke 19:14-15)

Deuteronomy 10: 12 –21

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.

Acts 5:25-32

The chief of the Temple police and the high priests were puzzled. “What’s going on here anyway?” Just then someone showed up and said, “Did you know that the men you put in jail are back in the Temple teaching the people?” The chief and his police went and got them, but they handled them gently, fearful that the people would riot and turn on them.

 Bringing them back, they stood them before the High Council. The Chief Priest said, “Didn’t we give you strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name? And here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are trying your best to blame us for the death of this man.”

 Peter and the apostles answered, “It’s necessary to obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, the One you killed by hanging him on a cross. God set him on high at his side, Prince and Savior, to give Israel the gift of a changed life and sins forgiven. And we are witnesses to these things.”

 

What Jesus Meant

By Garry Wills

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s law. I have learned a great deal from you, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can.  When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination—end of debate.  I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s laws and how to follow them.

  1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians.  Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
  2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
  3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is: how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
  4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor to the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them.  Should I smite them?
  5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
  6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11;10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there degrees of abomination?
  7. Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
  8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?
  9. I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
  10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton-polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev. 24:10-16)? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?

 

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.  Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging (34-35 Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant. New York: Penguin, 2006.).

 

I am continuing in my journey by confronting my own egregious sins and hypocrisies and struggling with how I have lost orientation on The Way.  It is not easy, in fact it is extremely difficult, but inch by inch, I feel as if, with a humble nod to C.S. Lewis, that I am walking towards the wardrobe door and there ahead,  I am momentarily catching a glimpse of  something real and full of light just beyond that door; in a world just as real as the one I woke up to yesterday but even more real; and there Aslan waits –just beyond the lamp post.

Bear Witness in the World of Something better, by being Someone better.

Further up and Further in,

Jane

In conclusion, I  meditate on some visuals from history and artist’s imagined visuals from God’s His-Story.

Children swinging from a lamp-post in the ruins of their London Street (1940)

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“Killing children is fair, says US Military”. The War on Iraq:

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Image of a Central American child traveling with migrants sleeping at a shelter.

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United States White House: “It is very biblical to enforce the law”.

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Artist’s imagined image of Herod ordering by law the slaughter of what could have been Jesus’ pre-school classmates.

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Our favorite historical homeless asylum seeking family on their way to a new country with hopes of freedom.

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Desperately Needed: Translators

Desperately Needed: Translators

“Do Not Pray for This People: I Will Not Hear You”

By Jane Tawel

February 17, 2018

 

 

We the People, who claim some sort of kinship with God, seem to be lost in “non-translation”. “God hear our prayers” becomes impossible if not acted out with our own blood, sweat and tears for others. A quote by the poet, Christian Wiman, was for me today, yet another nail in the coffin of our “go to” – “thoughts and prayers”, “I’ll pray for you”, and so forth.  Not that I don’t in fact, ask for prayer often, and pray for people and give much thought to others daily. However, I remain cognizant of the fact that much of my sort of prayer is only possible because I am a first-world rich, “fat-cat”. Being a first-world citizen is also why I can sinfully often remain inactive in actually “working out my salvation”. Wiman writes in his My Bright Abyss:

 

Silence is the language of faith. Action – be it church or charity, politics or poetry – is the translation. As with any translation, action is a mere echo of its original, inevitably faded and distorted, especially as it moves farther from its source. There the comparison ends, though, for while it is true that action degrades that original silence, and your moments of meditative communion with God can seem a world away from the chaotic human encounters to which those moments compel you, it is also true that without these constant translations into action, that original, sustaining silence begins to be less powerful, and then less accessible, and then finally impossible.

 

 

Today is the fourth day of Lent. This year, Ash Wednesday fell ironically on the same day as the Hallmark Holiday, Valentine’s Day, and tragically on another violence by gun day at a school in Florida.  Of course, every day in America has become a violence by gun day.  When it happens to me or my kids, please don’t give me your thoughts and prayers.  Our prayers in this country have become impossible for God to answer, because we think of them like we do all currency – ours—belonging by rights to us because what?  We call ourselves “Christians”?  We have become a people who admire those who make money without work that benefits others and those who admire prayers that remain silent and not active. Unless we begin to spend the currency of our prayers in action, the Bible says, it will be impossible for God to hear us.

 

“Give us this day our daily bread” is meaningless for those who have more bread than is good for them.  God has no role in our need, and therefore, no need to give us “rolls”.  As we continue to pray for protection, we must accept that we have created a nation that doesn’t need God for that any more either.  Neither do God’s original people, by the way, the Israelites. Plenty of ammo to go around there, too. God is willing to let us continue to protect ourselves with our weapons of mass destruction.  Free will, and all that.

 

If I want to know how to act in the Babylon I live in, I should read the newspapers, and this doesn’t always make me feel good. If I want to know whose prayers God listens to, I have to read the Bible parts that don’t make me feel all that good either.  I must carefully and humbly read my Bible – especially the bits that convict me.

 

Psalm 69:33 For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

 

Psalm 34:17: The righteous cry, and the LORD hears And delivers them out of all their troubles.

 

Proverbs 21:13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.

 

We must stop believing that we can go into our closets and pray and be a “good” church goer and be saved.  If this world we have created hasn’t become scary and awful enough for you, look at the next one we claim we want to go to – a new earth and a new heaven lived as God originally planned.  If we don’t start living in that world now, God is quite clear that we are having no part of Him and that He will have no part of us.  The words of the prophet Jeremiah should propel us out of our “thoughts and prayers” —

 

Jeremiah:  Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah (The Church, America, Great Britain, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, China……) who come through these gates (church doors, democracies) to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

“‘Will you steal and murder, (shoot up your own children as living sacrifices to your freedom to own something?)  commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal (Capitalism, America, Freedom…)and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

12 “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh (oh, Irony – Shiloh is now The West Bank!!!)  where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’

16 So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah (Columbine, Newtown, Parkland, Karbala, Najaf, Kandahar, Kabul, Kedrovoye, Bethlehem….)  and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger. 19 But am I the one they are provoking? declares the Lord. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place—on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the crops of your land—and it will burn and not be quenched. (Cheap grace will be seen as the counterfeit salvation it is!)

21 “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings (tithes, prayers, sermons, “thoughts for Me”)  to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! 22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt  (Europe, Africa, Asia) and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. 25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff -necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’ (Jeremiah as recorded by the Holy Spirit in chapter 7, Book of Jeremiah)

 

I am taking time away from reading my newspapers this Lent.  But I hardly need to do that to understand that American Christians have been swept along in the tides of history like all others who grow out of their need or desire to be with and like a righteous God; who break their covenant with God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We have taken such incremental steps away from Jehovah, Yahweh, that we are unable to see how many degrees off True North we have journeyed.  This is what has happened throughout recorded history with God’s people:  with the Egyptians who gave God’s people bread, with the Babylonians who let them pray behind closed doors, and of course, with the Romans as they took the money into the coffers of God’s temple. We too, have offered our prayers out of one side of our mouths, while chanting, “Crucify Him” out of the other side.

 

Jesus did not come to merely die for us. He came to live for us and to live as us.  He came to show us The Way – because we keep losing our way.  Most importantly, He came to make history.  He did not make history when He died – we will all do that since that first Adam chose death over serving Yahweh.  Jesus made history as the first human ever to be RESURRECTED from the dead – for eternity.  This is what He came to show us that God intended all along — from the beginning to today. God through The Christ,  has now offered a way for us too, to be resurrected.  IF!! IF!!!  IF!!!

 

THEN!!!  THEN!!! THEN!!!!  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  (As recorded by the Prophet Paul in his 6th chapter to the Romans –and to us?)

 

I don’t really need to read the newspapers since History repeats itself again and again –in The Garden of Eden, in Israel, in America – on a Roman cross. The only different news-paper is The Good News of Jesus The Christ. Jesus broke the bonds of history – He broke the bonds of Time – He broke the bonds of Death. The news has always told us the same thing – we will die because we sin.  But all of that changed in the life, death and resurrection of the man we call Jesus and who believers call, Messiah, Christos, The Christ.  My prayers for Jesus to be my Savior are always a good start, but The Good News is that they cannot be the only thing I do.

I thank my God, My Savior, that He didn’t come to earth to offer me His “thoughts and prayers”.