Bob Schwartz

Category: Christianity

A 7-year-old girl dies in U.S. custody. The White House disclaims responsibility. The White House needs lessons in logic. And compassion.

When I was hungry you gave me to eat
When I was thirsty you gave me to drink
Whatever you do to the least, you do it to Me

Washington Post:

Trump administration not to blame for ‘tragic’ death of 7-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody, White House says

A White House spokesman on Friday called the death of a 7-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody a “tragic situation” but said the Trump administration is not to blame and called on Congress to “disincentivize” migrants from making long treks to the southern U.S. border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday that the girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert.

Asked by a reporter if the administration is “taking any responsibility for the girl’s death,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said: “Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No.”

According to CBP records, the girl and her father were detained about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in.

More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures, CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees. According to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”

She died less than 24 hours after being transported by helicopter to a hospital in El Paso.

Here is the missing logic:

It is stipulated that the girl died in part from dehydration, also possibly from malnutrition.
It is stipulated by the U.S. CBP that she had not eaten or consumed water for several days.
The CPB had her in custody for eight hours before she showed symptoms.
During the eight hours she was in custody, she could have been given water and food, but apparently wasn’t.
Therefore, CPB could have done something to help prevent the death but didn’t, which indicates some responsibility.

As for the missing compassion, last night the White House held its grand Christmas Party. Maybe somehow, sometime, during the season, they will learn something. Miracles do happen.

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“Honoring Pittsburgh synagogue victims, Pence appears with ‘rabbi’ who preaches, ‘Jesus is the Messiah’”

 

Washington Post:

Two days after the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, Vice President Pence bowed his head at a rally on Monday in Michigan as a religious leader who casts himself as a “rabbi” offered a prayer for the victims in Pittsburgh.

But the man who shared a stage with Pence, Loren Jacobs, preaches Messianic Judaism, a tradition central to Jews for Jesus, a group condemned by Jewish leaders as faux Judaism that seeks to promote Christian evangelism. The major Jewish denominations join the state of Israel in viewing followers of Messianic Judaism as Christian, not Jewish.

His appearance drew outrage on social media.

When I read this story, my reaction—I am not kidding—was: Oh Jesus!

I haven’t covered this issue of messianic Judaism much, though I’ve talked with others about it plenty. The last time I wrote about it was in discussing Roy Moore.  You may recall that his controversial and unsuccessful run for the Senate, along with including questions about Moore’s inappropriate behavior with a young woman, also included claims that Moore was anti-Semitic. To counter the charge, Moore’s wife pointed to their having a Jewish attorney. It turned out that the attorney was a messianic Jew.

The Post story does a good job of outlining the issue. Suffice it to say that if you believe that Jesus was the Jewish messiah, you are free to believe that. But according to any accepted normative theology held by any Jews, Jesus was not the Jewish messiah, and believing that he was makes you by definition not Jewish. (To go into a little more detail, a number of Jews historically gave up on the coming of any messiah, while a small minority still believe in the future possibility of a messiah. Jesus has no place in either of those schemes.)

Along with the question of whether the “rabbi” Pence invited was actually a rabbi or a Jew, the whole approach is inappropriate by any spiritual or humane lights. That is, under the tragic and sensitive circumstances, bringing this person to that event and having him say what he said (including endorsing Republicans) was about as un-Jesus-like as anything imaginable. Pence’s “rabbi” is no Jew, and with this stunt, neither Pence nor his “rabbi” appear to be very good Christians either.

What Some American Christians Can Learn From Mexican Catholics

Mexico has the second largest Catholic population in the world. With over 100 million Catholics, 91% of Mexicans are Catholic.

There is a migrant caravan of thousands currently heading north through Mexico. I saw a Mexican policewoman giving water to migrants. I saw Mexicans giving food and clothing to migrants.

Forget about the circumstances and politics of this particular migration. Maybe your family history does not include those who had to endure a long and arduous journey to get away from something bad or seek something better—or both. Maybe your family history does.

Forget about what we learn almost daily about the Catholic Church and hidden institutional corruption and perversion. Many in the Church still try to closely follow the teachings of Jesus and the compassion of the Holy Mother—maybe more in Mexico than anywhere.

Thirst, hunger, exposure, suffering. Christians claim to understand these through the example of a savior painfully dying on the cross yet to the end demanding love and compassion, no questions asked. This is something some American Christians—some prominent and powerful American Christians—seem to hypocritically ignore. This is something some Mexican Catholics seem to remember and live by.

Who damaged him?: “Trump cites as a negotiating tool his policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.”

It is the kind of question we usually ask about serial killers and genocidal dictators, not about the President of the United States: who damaged Trump so tragically? Was it his parents? Satan? Or did he invent himself in the form of a toxic monster? (My thought, which may be suggested in a future post, is that Trump may be the Antichrist. But that’s for later.)

Washington Post:

President Trump has calculated that he will gain political leverage in congressional negotiations by continuing to enforce a policy he claims to hate — separating immigrant parents from their young children at the southern border, according to White House officials.

On Friday, Trump suggested he would not change the policy unless Democrats agreed to his other immigration demands, which include funding a border wall, tightening the rules for border enforcement and curbing legal entry. He also is intent on pushing members of his party to vote for a compromise measure that would achieve those long-standing priorities.

Trump’s public acknowledgment that he was willing to let the policy continue as he pursued his political goals came as the president once again blamed Democrats for a policy enacted and touted by his own administration.

The real tragedy is not that Trump is trying to reshape America as his personal hell on earth, for his purposes. The tragedy is how many Americans, including so many Republican leaders and people of supposed faith, are willing to join him in that effort and cheer him on.

As with all monsters, political and criminal, the question is not really how they became the monsters they are. The question is what, if anything, we do about it.

The Very Small People Running America

The people running America are very small, starting with the president, and continuing down through his administration and his Republican supporters.

What does small mean?

Let us put it in terms these people will understand, since practically all of them claim to be faithful, most of them faithful Christians:

So God created mankind in his own image.
Genesis 1:27

That is, of course, aspirational. Not that people will be able to reach godlike heights of compassion and care. But that is the constant goal—interrupted by the shortfalls we are all subject to, being human as we are.

But maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe God is petty and ignorant, uncaring and uncompassionate. In which case, those running America are being faithful, acting so small in the image of a very small God.

Or maybe they don’t understand the very first chapter of the Bible they embrace, or maybe they ignore it or skip it. Maybe they don’t understand, ignore or skip the entire Bible.

Anyway, these are very small people, faithful or just pretending to be. Way too small to be doing such a big job.

L’dor Vador (Ramadan)

L’dor Vador (Ramadan)

Jews begat
Christians begat
Muslims.
Thousands became
Millions became billions.
Blessed and blind warriors
Pages of holy books
Edged in gold
Sharp as swords.
Angry and bitter blood transmutes
To sweet water in the scorching desert
Of seeking souls.

©

Note: We are in the midst of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, commemorating the first revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad. It is sad astonishment to students of all three Abrahamic faiths to see how zealously ignorant and contentious some of the faithful of each may be to each other. (Jews who will not dare to touch, let alone read, the New Testament; Jews and Christians who will not dare to touch, let alone read, the Qur’an.)

In fact, each faith has produced extraordinary core texts that should be the first stop for anyone claiming to know anything—not only about the other, but about their own traditions. The golden threads of Judaism are woven into Christianity, the golden threads of Judaism and Christianity are woven into Islam. The ugliness and terror are man-made; the best parts are from the compassionate and caring.

L’dor vador. From generation to generation. One family.

Merton’s Last Year: Wisdom is No Vaccine

I’ve been reading the journals of Thomas Merton, and here is a thought. There is never a level of wisdom and awareness that removes doubt, no matter who you are. Never a level of wisdom and awareness that answers all the questions. Only better doubts and questions, unresolved and unanswered.

If you pay attention, you’ve noticed that people you admire, people you study and may try to emulate, are “only human.” They suffer from physical, psychological or soul problems, just like anybody else. This applies to people who may have served, or are still serving, as spiritual guides.

I’ve been with Thomas Merton a long time, reading him, reading about him, visiting his abbey and his Center. I am well aware of some of the questions and doubts that dogged him, especially about the choices of life he had made. Of course, Merton had pushed the envelope and managed a few tricks that benefited us and him. Entering a cloistered and mostly silent order, he produced thousands of words that reached around the world.

One of the things I have not read enough of are his journals, which he kept for decades, and which occupy seven published volumes. I had read his Asian Journal, which he kept on what was to be his final trip, when he was accidentally killed on December 8, 1968 in Bangkok. Aside from that, I had not read much of the journal of his last year, a time when Merton was more expressly reviewing his life and choices.

Knowing what we know about events, some think that Merton “sensed” he was heading towards an unexpected end. But Merton always knew there was an end, and Merton never stopped investigating, whether he had a few more days or, as we would like, many more years.

I am working my way through the last volume of his journal, covering October 1967 through December 1968 (The Other Side of the Mountain: The End of the Journey, The Journals of Thomas Merton Book 7). Along with his valuable observations about America and the world in that tumultuous time, we get close to a great man wondering whether the things he had done, for himself and others (like us), was the best use of a life. An unmarried Catholic monk in rural Kentucky, but also a very worldly man, he wonders about other religious traditions, about getting married, about living in California.

Wisdom does not provide immunity, wisdom is no vaccine. If anything, that is wisdom itself.

Nine Prayers: For Those We Like, Love or Suffer When We Think Of

Thomas Merton’s final book, Contemplative Prayer, was published in 1969, a year after his accidental death. In 1995, Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh added an introduction. He wrote about his admiration for Merton and about distinctions between Christian and Buddhist prayer:

I first met Thomas Merton in 1966. It is hard to describe his face in words, to write down exactly what he was like. He was filled with human warmth. Conversation with him was so easy. When we talked, I told him a few things, and he immediately understood the things I didn’t tell him as well. He was open to everything, constantly asking questions and listening deeply. I told him about my life as a Buddhist novice in Vietnam, and he wanted to know more and more.

Our approach to prayer in Buddhism is a little different from that of Christianity. We practice silent meditation, and we try to practice mindfulness in everything we do, to awaken to what is going on inside us and all around us in each moment. The Buddha taught: “If you are standing on one shore and want to cross over to the other shore, you have to use a boat or swim across. You cannot just pray, ‘Oh, other shore, please come over here for me to step across!’” To a Buddhist, praying without also practicing is not real prayer.

At the end of the Introduction, he offers a comprehensive set of nine prayers—prayers beyond any sectarian tradition, and prayers that include “the one we suffer when we think of.”


Nine Prayers
Thich Nhat Hanh
From Introduction to Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton

1.
May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May he/she be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May they be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
2.
May I be free from injury. May I live in safety.
May he/she be free from injury. May he/she live in safety.
May they be free from injury. May they live in safety.
3.
May I be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May he/she be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May they be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
4.
May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May he/she learn to look at him/herself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May they learn to look at themselves with the eyes of understanding and love.
5.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May he/she be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in him/herself.
May they be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in themselves.
6.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
May he/she learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in him/herself.
May they learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in themselves.
7.
May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May he/she know how to nourish the seeds of joy in him/herself every day.
May they know how to nourish the seeds of joy in themselves every day.
8.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May he/she be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May they be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
9.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
May he/she be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
May they be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

He/she: First the person we like, then the person we love, then the person who is neutral to us, and finally the person we suffer when we think of.

They: The group, the people, the nation, or the species we like, then the one we love, then the one that is neutral to us, and finally the one we suffer when we think of.

The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas—sometimes referred to as the Fifth Gospel—is one of a number of ancient texts about the life and words of Jesus that did not become part of the New Testament canon. Many of these, including Thomas, can be found in Marvin Meyer’s volume The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus: The Definitive Collection of Mystical Gospels and Secret Books about Jesus of Nazareth. Meyer, a brilliant scholar and translator who was an eminent expert on these gospels, explains:

The Gospel according to Thomas is an ancient collection of sayings of Jesus said to have been recorded by Judas Thomas the Twin. Unlike other early Christian gospels, which typically consist of narrative accounts interpreting the life of Jesus of Nazareth and culminating in descriptions of his death, the Gospel of Thomas focuses specifically upon sayings of Jesus. The document claims that these sayings themselves, when properly understood, communicate salvation and life: “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death” (saying 1).

The Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas came to light with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, within which the Gospel of Thomas is to be found as the second tractate, or document, of Codex II. According to Muhammad Ali of the al-Samman clan, who has told his story to James M. Robinson, this remarkable manuscript discovery took place around December 1945….

As a gospel of wisdom, the Gospel of Thomas proclaims a distinctive message. In contrast to the way in which he is portrayed in other gospels, particularly New Testament gospels, Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas performs no physical miracles, reveals no fulfillment of prophecy, announces no apocalyptic kingdom about to disrupt the world order, and dies for no one’s sins. Instead, Thomas’s Jesus dispenses insight from the bubbling spring of wisdom (saying 13), discounts the value of prophecy and its fulfillment (saying 52), critiques end-of-the-world, apocalyptic announcements (sayings 51, 113), and offers a way of salvation through an encounter with the sayings of “the living Jesus.”

The readers of the Gospel of Thomas are invited to join the quest for meaning in life by interpreting the oftentimes cryptic and enigmatic “hidden sayings” of Jesus. They are encouraged to read or hear the sayings, interact with them, and discover for themselves the interpretation and meaning. Saying 2 describes the vicissitudes of such a quest for insight: “Jesus said, ‘Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be troubled. When one is troubled, one will marvel and will reign over all’”. That is to say, the quest for meaning is to be undertaken with commitment; and while the way taken may be upsetting, people will attain insight and rest if only they persevere. For it is in the quest and through the quest that people find themselves and God. Then, according to the Gospel of Thomas, they discover that God’s kingdom is not only outside them but also inside them, that they are “children of the living father” (saying 3), and that they are essentially one with the savior. Saying 108 makes this point by using mystical language: “Jesus said, ‘Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to that person.’”

Following are a few of the sayings; spiritual explorers are urged to find and read them all. Some sayings will seem familiar, sounding much like famous sayings found in the canonical gospels. Others will be new, obscure and mysterious—as they are meant to be.


The Gospel of Thomas

(2)
Yeshua said,
Seek and do not stop seeking until you find.
When you find, you will be troubled.
When you are troubled,
you will marvel and rule over all.

(5)
Yeshua said,
Know what is in front of your face
and what is hidden from you will be disclosed.
There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.

(7)
Yeshua said,
Blessings on the lion if a human eats it,
making the lion human.
Foul is the human if a lion eats it,
making the lion human.
[Meyer’s note: This obscure saying seems to appeal to the lion as a symbol of all that is passionate and bestial: the passions may either be consumed by a person or consume a person.]

(18)
The students said to Yeshua,
Tell us how our end will be.

Yeshua said,
Have you discovered the beginning and now are seeking the end?
Where the beginning is, the end will be.
Blessings on you who stand at the beginning.
You will know the end and not taste death.

(26)
Yeshua said,
You see the speck in your brother’s eye
but not the beam in your own eye.
When you take the beam out of your own eye,
then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

(31)
Yeshua said,
A prophet is not accepted in the hometown.
A doctor does not heal those who know the doctor.

(34)
Yeshua said,
If a blind person leads a blind person,
both will fall in a hole.

(42)
Yeshua said,
Be passersby.
[Meyer’s note: Or, “Be wanderers,” or, much less likely, “Come into being as you pass away” (Coptic shope etetenerparage). A parallel to this saying appears in an inscription from a mosque at Fatehpur Sikri, India: “Jesus said, ‘This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not build your dwelling there.’”]

(51)
His students said to him,
When will the dead rest?
When will the new world come?
He said to them,
What you look for has come
but you do not know it.

(52)
His students said to him,
Twenty-four prophets have spoken in Israel
and they all spoke of you.

He said to them,
You have disregarded the living one among you
and have spoken of the dead.

(54)
Yeshua said,
Blessings on you the poor,
for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

(70)
Yeshua said,
If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you.
If you have nothing within you,
what you do not have within you will kill you.

(113)
His students said to him,
When will the kingdom come?

Yeshua said,
It will not come because you are watching for it.
No one will announce, “Look, here it is,”
or “Look, there it is.”
The father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth
and people do not see it.
 

Books for Passover and Easter

Passover

If you are celebrating Passover or just interested in it, you are familiar with the Haggadah—the book used as a roadmap for the seder meal and rituals that take place on the first couple of evenings of Passover.

There are widely adopted traditions for the seder that include the retelling of the Exodus story and the eating of symbolic foods. But the exact content and form of the seder have long been flexible, and this variety is reflected in different Haggadot. There are hundreds of versions.

For the Passover observant and the P-curious, I recommend a deeper dive than the typical Haggadah—a set of books from Jewish Lights entitled My People’s Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries – Volume 1 and Volume 2.

From the editors:

In two volumes, this empowering resource for the spiritual revival of our times enables us to find deeper meaning in one of Judaism’s most beloved traditions, the Passover Seder. Rich Haggadah commentary adds layer upon layer of new insight to the age-old celebration of the journey from slavery to freedom—and makes its power accessible to all.

This diverse and exciting Passover resource features the traditional Haggadah Hebrew text with a new translation designed to let you know exactly what the Haggadah says. Introductory essays help you understand the historical roots of Passover, the development of the Haggadah, and how to make sense out of texts and customs that evolved from ancient times.

Framed with beautifully designed Talmud-style pages, My People’s Passover Haggadah features commentaries by scholars from all denominations of Judaism. You are treated to insights by experts in such fields as the Haggadah’s history; its biblical roots; its confrontation with modernity; and its relationship to rabbinic midrash and Jewish law, feminism, Chasidism, theology, and kabbalah.

No other resource provides such a wide-ranging exploration of the Haggadah, a reservoir of inspiration and information for creating meaningful Seders every year.

These are a bit bulky for the seder table itself. But they are the sort of books you would read if you wanted to understand why people are sitting at the seder table in the first place and why the traditions are so broad and sometimes so misunderstood. If Passover is just going through the motions, any seder and any Haggadah will do. If Passover is one piece of a much bigger picture to be investigated, these enlightening commentaries are what you need.

Easter

Close to each other. Very close. Passover begins tonight on Friday March 30. Easter is this Sunday April 1.

The calendar isn’t all that’s close. The Jewish story and the Christian story, in general and in the context of these particular holidays, are essentially and inextricably linked. The nature of those stories and those connections is the source of faith, enlightenment, misunderstanding, mistrust, even hatred and violence. Among Jews and Christians.

Any big moment on the Jewish and Christian calendars (and these holidays qualify) is an opportunity not just for ritual celebration but for study. How well do we—Jews, Christians, others—understand the texts and traditions outside the comfortable conventions of our belief and practice? Not just understanding that will confirm our faiths, allowing us to nod our heads and pat ourselves on our collective backs, but new and even startling understanding that might shake us and even make us uncomfortable. Everything we know about Judaism or Christianity, about the Bible, about history, may not be wrong, but maybe we could benefit from another open and learned perspective.

The second edition of the The Jewish Annotated New Testament was published last year; any and every Jew or Christian should read at least a little of it. So should everyone else who wants to know something about the foundations of this consequential moment in scripture, history and religion. Believers and nonbelievers may think they know what they’re dealing with. Many don’t.

The editors explain:

It is almost two millennia since the earliest texts incorporated into the New Testament were composed. For the most part, these centuries have seen a painful relationship between Jews and Christians. Although Jewish perceptions of Christians and Christian perceptions of Jews have improved markedly in recent decades, Jews and Christians still misunderstand many of each other’s texts and traditions. The landmark publication of this book is a witness to that improvement; ideally, it will serve to increase our knowledge of both our common histories and the reasons why we came to separate…

The Jewish Annotated New Testament represents the first time a gathering of Jewish scholars wrote a complete commentary on the New Testament. It reached a wide Jewish and Christian audience, and in doing so it has begun to increase both Jewish literacy of the New Testament and Christian awareness of the New Testament’s Jewish context. It has become widely used in colleges, universities and seminaries, as well as in Jewish, Christian, and joint Jewish-Christian study groups. Many Christian clergy and religious educators from different Christian denominations and church settings have told us that they have integrated the insights of this book into their preaching and devotion. Because of this volume, we have been told numerous times, sermons have been corrected, anti-Jewish teaching and preaching have been avoided, and Christians in churches and classrooms and Bible studies have learned more about Jesus and his followers. Jewish readers have told us how the volume has encouraged them to read the New Testament for the first time, to begin to consider the complex relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and how better to understand both their Christian neighbors and their own Jewish history….

For Christian readers The Jewish Annotated New Testament offers a window into the first-century world of Judaism from which the New Testament springs. There are explanations of Jewish concepts such as food laws and rabbinic argumentation. It also provides a much-needed corrective to many centuries of Christian misunderstandings of the Jewish religion.

For Jewish readers, this volume provides the chance to encounter the New Testament–a text of vast importance in Western European and American culture–with no religious agenda and with guidance from Jewish experts in theology, history, and Jewish and Christian thought. It also explains Christian practices, such as the Eucharist.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Second Edition is an essential volume that places the New Testament writings in a context that will enlighten readers of any faith or none.