Bob Schwartz

Category: Christianity

“Dozens of U.S. Jewish Activists Stage Sit-in on Capitol Hill in Protest of Trump’s Threat to Deport Dreamers”

It was starting to appear that many faith communities might not be taking their place in standing up and resisting the daily assault on the deepest American, Judeo-Christian and human values. In fact, it appeared that some of those communities were not only silent but hypocritically complicit.

This morning’s protest at the Capitol is one of the latest rays of light. From Haaretz:

Dozens of U.S. Jewish Activists Stage Sit-in on Capitol Hill in Protest of Trump’s Threat to Deport Dreamers

‘Let my people go,’ chant a group of Dreamers alongside coalition of Jewish groups and members of Congress

WASHINGTON – Dozens of Jewish American activists demonstrated on Capitol Hill Wednesday calling on Congress to pass legislation in protection of “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as children.

A coalition of Jewish groups organized the demonstration, including the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement, Bend the Arc, the Anti-Defamation League and others.

A group of Dreamers also joined the demonstration, chanting “Let my people stay.” Members of Congress Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who are both Jewish, also arrived at the scene to express their support as activists were arrested….

After handing a petition signed by over 5,000 people thus far to members of Congress, the protesters sat on the floor of the Russel Senate Office Building and chanted “we will not be moved.”

“As Jews, we recognize the dangers of President Trump’s inhumane policies and scapegoating of immigrants,” the petition states. “We’ve seen this before. We stand with our immigrant neighbors on the side of justice, not oppression, of liberation, not deportation.”

A number of protesters, including Reform rabbis, were arrested by Capitol Hill Police officers.

Barbara Weinstein of the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center told Haaretz that dozens of the protesters were arrested, but that most of them are being released. “It’s long past time for Congress to pass legislation for the Dreamers,” she stated. “We need this bill immediately. We had a lot of members of Congress, from the House and Senate side, who told us they were determined to solve the crisis. It’s important to Democrats and Republicans alike.”

Weinstein added that “welcoming the stranger is an important part of our identity. We are all descendants of immigrants. It’s on all of us to support these Dreamers. They grew up here, this is the only country they’ve ever known, many of them serve in the military, this is their home. We’re going to remain focused on this issue until we see a bill reach the president’s desk and signed by him. This is not over today.”

 

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“Roy Moores wife reveals their ‘Jewish attorney’ and he’s a Christian”

Here are excerpts of a report from AL.com in Alabama:

The wife of former U.S. Senate Republican nominee Roy Moore has revealed the identity of the Moores’ “Jewish attorney” she mentioned in a Dec. 11 speech….

“We read where we were against Jews – even calling us Nazis,” she wrote in an email to AL.com. “We have a Jewish lawyer working for us in our firm – Martin Wishnatsky. Judge hired him while Chief Justice, then I hired him at the Foundation.”

Wishnatsky, in an interview with AL.com, said he graduated from the law school at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in 2012, was admitted to the Virginia Bar Association in October and interviewed with Moore after he was re-elected as chief justice in November 2012. Moore hired Wishnatsky and two other Liberty University School of Law graduates as full-time clerks in 2012, the first State Supreme Court clerks in the school’s history, according to a Liberty University press release.

Wishnatsky worked as a staff attorney at the Alabama Supreme Court from January 2013 until Moore was removed from office in 2016. Then he went to work as a staff attorney for the Foundation for Moral Law, which was founded by Roy Moore and where Kayla Moore works as president.

“I just moved down the street,” Wishnatsky said.

Wishnatsky, 73, said that he was born July 13, 1944, grew up in Asbury Park, N.J., attended Hebrew school at a Conservative synagogue and went through a bar mitzvah, but he considered his family secular, ethnic Jews, who were not very religious.

“My background is 100 percent Jewish,” he said. “My grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe, and came through Ellis Island. My parents were born in Brooklyn during World War I. There were no manifestations of faith; we were Jewish, that’s why we went to synagogue and not a church. It was just an ethnic characteristic.”

 But Wishnatsky said he accepted Christ in his thirties. “I had an experience of the reality of God at 33,” Wishnatsky said. “I knew God was real but I wasn’t sure who he was.”

He became a Mormon first, then later became an evangelical Protestant Christian.

“I’m a Messianic Jew,” Wishnatsky said. “That’s the term they use for a Jewish person who has accepted Christ.”…

As for questions about whether an ethnic Jew who converts to Christianity is a Jew or a Christian, Wishnatsky replies:

“You’re both,” he said. “You’re a Jewish person that’s accepted Christ. Jesus was a Jew. Most Jews are not religious. That’s how I grew up. There are the Orthodox who are very serious about Judaism. It’s about whether you think God is real, and whether you’re accountable to him. It’s whether you take God seriously. It took me quite a few years to take God seriously.”

Wishnatsky appears to be intelligent, well-educated and sincerely faithful. He is also wrong in his conclusion that he is a Jew.

A tenet of classical Judaism is that a messiah will come. In modern times, many Jews have relinquished a belief in the coming of the messiah, while others believe that he will still be coming.

Some of the most dramatic moments in Jewish history are claims by individuals to be the promised messiah—Sabbatai Zvi in the 17th century, Jacob Frank in the 18th century, for example. All such claims were ultimately rejected by Judaism.

In one extraordinary case, a handful of Jews came to believe that a man named Jesus was the messiah. This handful was joined by a handful of non-Jews, and together that handful became billions.

Even with that Jesus phenomenon, however, Judaism never acknowledged that the messiah had yet come. The belief that Jesus is that messiah is antithetical to Judaism. Saying that you are a Jew does not make you a Jew, no matter how much in your heart you believe it. (There are also theological arguments to be made, particularly for Christians with certain trinitarian beliefs that do not fit Jewish monotheism, but that is another discussion for another day.)

I have had a fair amount of experience with messianic Jews, including a number in and around Alabama. Anyone who has read my writing knows of my respect for faith and the faithful. But respect for faith and the faith of others is not blind or mindless. Respectfully, Martin Wishnatsky may be a lot of things, but he is not a Jew. His saying so, and Mrs. Roy Moore vouching for him, won’t change that.

Christmas Quiz: What’s Different About This Picture?

If you look closely at the painting above, you may notice something unusual about the adoring Magi.

The painting, Adoration of the Magi, is attributed to Vasco Fernandes (ca. 1480–ca. 1543). I’ve shown it to a number of people this Christmas, who all remarked that it is beautiful, but did not comment on anything else.

Can you see what it is unusual about it? If you know or think you do, don’t look first at the answer below.

 


 

Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem (2010) by Brent Landau is the first-ever complete English translation of what purports to be a first-person account by the Magi themselves. Written sometime before the fifth century, it is not actually a chronicle by the Magi, but it is a spiritually fascinating addition to the usual Christmas story.

Landau writes:

The Revelation of the Magi, mostly narrated by the Magi in the first person, is a sweeping and imaginative work that begins in the Garden of Eden and ends with the Magi being baptized at the hands of the Apostle Thomas. These Magi are members of an ancient mystical order and reside in a semimythical land called Shir, located in the extreme east of the world, at the shore of the Great Ocean. The Revelation of the Magi says these individuals are called “Magi” in the language of their country because they pray in silence. The story implies that the name “Magi” is thus a play on the words silence and/or prayer, but that implication does not make sense in any of the most common languages spoken by early Christians. Despite this unsolved mystery, however, this description sharply distinguishes the Magi of this story from any of the most common ancient usages of the term magoi: these Magi are not magicians, astrologers, or even priests of the Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism.

These mystics, who live in a mysterious, far-off land, as the Revelation of the Magi depicts its Magi, are the descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. Seth was believed by many early Jews and Christians to be extremely pious and virtuous, so it is very fitting for the Revelation of the Magi to trace the ancestry of the Magi back to such an illustrious founder. The Magi inherited from Seth a prophecy of supreme importance for the world: a star of indescribable brightness will someday appear, heralding the birth of God in human form. Seth himself had learned about this prophecy from his father, Adam, since the star originally had hovered over the Tree of Life, illumining all of Eden, before Adam’s sin caused the star to vanish.

Every month of every year, for thousands of years, the order of the Magi has carried out its ancient rituals in expectation of this star’s arrival. They ascend their country’s most sacred mountain, the Mountain of Victories, and pray in silence at the mouth of the Cave of Treasures of Hidden Mysteries, where Seth’s own prophetic books are housed and read by the Magi. Whenever one of the Magi dies, his son or one of his close relatives takes his place, and their order continues through the ages.

All of this lore about the origins of the Magi and their prophecy has been narrated, we are told, by the generation of the Magi that was alive to witness the coming of the star. They have gathered together to ascend the Mountain of Victories, as was their ancient custom, but suddenly the foretold star appears in the heavens. As promised, the star is indescribably bright, so bright that the sun becomes as faint as the daytime moon; yet because the Magi alone are worthy of guarding this prophecy, the star can be seen by no one but them. The star descends to the peak of the mountain and enters the Cave of Treasures, bidding the Magi to come inside. The Magi enter the cave and bow before the star, whose incredible light gradually dissipates to reveal a small, luminous human! This “star-child” reveals to the Magi that he is the Son of God, but—and this is of crucial importance—never calls himself by the familiar names Jesus or Christ. Nor do the Magi themselves ever call him by these names, and the absence of these designations will provide us with a critical clue about the central message of the Revelation of the Magi.

The star-child instructs the Magi to follow it to Jerusalem so that they may witness its birth and participate in the salvation God has planned for the entire world….

The Revelation of the Magi even influenced the way explorers of the New World understood the indigenous cultures they encountered. Two examples will suffice. First, there is the seventeenth-century Augustinian monk Antonio de la Calancha, who studied the Incan culture of Peru. He was impressed by the similarities between Andean traditional religion and Christianity, and he believed that the Apostle Thomas and the Magi must have missionized the region together, just as the Opus Imperfectum indicated. Second, the Franciscan missionary and historian Juan de Torquemada described the belief among some of the Aztecs that the conquistador Cortés was the god Quetzalcoatl with recourse to this legend. Just as the Magi had stood atop the Mountain of Victories awaiting the fulfillment of their prophecy, Torquemada notes, so, too, did the Aztecs anxiously await the foretold return of Quetzalcoatl, and were all too willing to accept Cortés as the returned Quetzalcoatl when Spanish ships appeared off the Mexican coast.

And that is the story of how, in this painting, one of the Magi appears as a Native American.

Pope Francis: Change the Rules of the Socio-Economic System

“We must work toward changing the rules of the game of the socio-economic system. Imitating the Good Samaritan of the Gospel is not enough. An entrepreneur who is only a Good Samaritan does half of his duty: he takes care of today’s victims, but does not curtail those of tomorrow. It is simple to give a part of the profits, without embracing and touching the people who receive those ‘crumbs’. This can never be said enough — capitalism continues to produce discarded people whom it would then like to care for. ”
Pope Francis

The news in America this Christmas is dominated by talk about taxes and the economy. So it is appropriate that my Christmas message come from a speech about economics given by Pope Francis on 1 April 2017.


Greed, which by no coincidence is a capital sin, is the sin of idolatry because the accumulation of money per se becomes the aim of one’s own actions.

When capitalism makes the seeking of profit its only purpose, it runs the risk of becoming an idolatrous framework, a form of worship. The ‘goddess of fortune’ is increasingly the new divinity of a certain finance and of the whole system of gambling which is destroying millions of the world’s families, and which you rightly oppose. This idolatrous worship is a surrogate for eternal life. Individual products (cars, telephones …) get old and wear out, but if I have money or credit I can immediately buy others, deluding myself of conquering death….

Today, many initiatives, public and private, are being carried out to combat poverty. All this, on the one hand, is a growth in humanity. In the Bible, the poor, orphans, widows, those ‘discarded’ by the society of those times, were aided by tithing and the gleaning of grain. But most of the people remained poor; that aid was not sufficient to feed and care for everyone. There were many ‘discarded’ by society. Today we have invented other ways to care for, to feed, to teach the poor, and some of the seeds of the Bible have blossomed into more effective institutions than those of the past. The rationale for taxes also lies in this solidarity, which is negated by tax avoidance and evasion which, before being illegal acts, are acts which deny the basic law of life: mutual care.

But — and this can never be said enough — capitalism continues to produce discarded people whom it would then like to care for. The principal ethical dilemma of this capitalism is the creation of discarded people, then trying to hide them or make sure they are no longer seen. A serious form of poverty in a civilization is when it is no longer able to see its poor, who are first discarded and then hidden.

Aircraft pollute the atmosphere, but, with a small part of the cost of the ticket, they will plant trees to compensate for part of the damage created. Gambling companies finance campaigns to care for the pathological gamblers that they create. And the day that the weapons industry finances hospitals to care for the children mutilated by their bombs, the system will have reached its pinnacle.

The economy of communion, if it wants to be faithful to its charism, must not only care for the victims, but build a system where there are ever fewer victims, where, possibly, there may no longer be any. As long as the economy still produces one victim and there is still a single discarded person, communion has not yet been realized; the celebration of universal fraternity is not full.

Therefore, we must work toward changing the rules of the game of the socio-economic system. Imitating the Good Samaritan of the Gospel is not enough. Of course, when an entrepreneur or any person happens upon a victim, he or she is called to take care of the victim and, perhaps like the Good Samaritan, also to enlist the fraternal action of the market (the innkeeper)….An entrepreneur who is only a Good Samaritan does half of his duty: he takes care of today’s victims, but does not curtail those of tomorrow….

Capitalism knows philanthropy, not communion. It is simple to give a part of the profits, without embracing and touching the people who receive those ‘crumbs’. Instead, even just five loaves and two fishes can feed the multitude if they are the sharing of all our life. In the logic of the Gospel, if one does not give all of himself, he never gives enough of himself.

 

Christmas for Refugees

How could you say to me,
“Off to the hills like a bird!
For, look, the wicked bend back the bow,
they fix to the string their arrow
to shoot from the gloom at the upright.
The foundations destroyed,
what can a righteous man do?”
Psalms 11:1-2 (Robert Alter translation)

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,
Matthew 1:13-14 (NRSV)

The wicked bend back the bow. The innocent flee. Give this Christmas to the UNHCR.

Hillel on Buddhism

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?
Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers 1:14

Hillel didn’t know the Buddha and probably didn’t know those who followed the Buddha’s philosophy. Jesus didn’t know Hillel, but knew people who knew Hillel or who followed Hillel’s philosophy.

This is one of the most famous of all Hillel’s wise sayings, and contains the essence of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and all religions aimed at assisting human evolution.

One of the seeming divisions in Buddhist thought—a division in the thought of most religions—is whether the primary mission is individualistic or communitarian. Should I be enlightened first so that I can help others be enlightened? Should I be saved first and go the heaven first so that I can help others get there? Or should I work on the community first, and then I might achieve that aspirational state and status.

Or both at the same time? Yes, both at the same time.

Hillel could not be more Buddhist if he was in India, China or Japan rather than Palestine.

It’s not just a matter of one making the other possible. These are not just dependent conditions. Your enlightenment does not exist without the enlightenment of others. Your well-being does not exist without the well-being of others. Simultaneously.

We see those who proudly parade their faith around yet, aside from aggressive proselytizing, leave others to fend for themselves. It is as if they stopped at the first Hillel question and felt justified making it all about themselves. When they skip the second question—“If I am only for myself, who am I?”—the possibility of their enlightenment, salvation, heaven, or whatever prize they seek is a delusion, as distant as the diameter of the universe.

Pope Francis: Amassing Wealth While Children Die Is ‘Idolatry That Kills’

I am not a Catholic or a Christian, but no major world leader—religious or political—gives me more hope for the possibility of humanity than Pope Francis.

Today’s story as reported by Crux:

Pope says amassing wealth while children die is ‘idolatry that kills’

In his homily at morning Mass on Monday, Pope Francis returned to a familiar theme — how amassing wealth, both money and land, while children suffer and die, is a morally unacceptable form of idolatry. There’s an “idolatry that kills,” that makes “human sacrifices” Francis said, by those who are hungry of money, land and wealth, who have “a lot” in front of “hungry children who have no medicine, no education, who are abandoned.”

ROME – During his daily morning Mass on Monday, Pope Francis said there are those in the world who have too much wealth, and their hoarding of money and land in the face of hungry children with no access to medicine or education is the equivalent of making “human sacrifices.”

In times when the media reports “so many calamities, so many injustices,” especially concerning children, Francis sent a “strong” prayer to God, asking him to convert the hearts of men so that they don’t worship “the God of money.”

Francis’s homily, partially reported by Vatican Radio, turned on the Gospel of the day, a passage from the Book of Luke that tells the parable of the rich man for whom, according to the pope, money was his god. The passage, the pontiff said, leads to a reflection of how useless it is to rely on earthly property, emphasizing how much the true treasure is instead one’s relationship with God.

Despite the abundance of his harvest, the man in the parable wanted to expand his storehouses to have even more, in his “fantasy” of “stretching life out,” collecting more goods “to the point of nausea,” not knowing when it’s enough, in an “exasperated consumerism.”

This, Francis said, is the “reality of today,” when many people who live to worship money and make it their god, lead a senseless life.

There’s an “idolatry that kills,” that makes “human sacrifices” Francis said, by those who are hungry of money, land and wealth, who have “a lot” in front of “hungry children who have no medicine, no education, who are abandoned.

“This idolatry causes so many people to starve. We only think of one case: 200,000 Rohingya children in refugee camps,” the pope said, referring to the refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. “There are 800,000 people there, 200,000 of whom are children.”

“Our prayer must be strong: Lord, please touch the hearts of these people who worship God, the god of money,” he said. “And also touch my heart, so I don’t fall into this too, so that I can see.”

The Furniture of Religion

When I look at the religions I practice or have a studied interest in—Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity among them—I see empty houses and furniture.

Some religions seem to begin with emptying the previously stuffed house, or at least minimizing the furniture. Buddhism and Christianity look like this, at least in the beginning. But the nature of religious evolution is to buy, borrow or build furnishings to fill the rooms, because it seems an improvement and because it is what people seem to like in their homes. And so, thousands of years later, you find plenty of variety in the Buddhist and Christian neighborhoods—some very grand constructions spiritually, intellectually, and physically, that seem a long way from the original simple houses.

Judaism, which like Hinduism harks back to a more ancient world where more is more, begins overstuffed (or in the Yiddish expression, ongeshtopt, meaning overstuffed). There have been continuing movements to strip down the Jewish furniture to basics and barer floors and walls, the most powerful of which has been the Hasidic stream, flowing from the Baal Shem Tov in the 18th century. (But in the spirit of exponential furnishing, the Hasidic movement became more and more overstuffed over the next few hundred years, leaving the Besht’s house barely recognizable.)

Regular readers know my appreciation for religion and my practice of Zen, which for me remains the best (but not only) way to clear out the furniture, or at least see through it to the basic house, or even to see through the house itself to where it sits in the universe. Once there, you can bring in the furniture you really need, whatever the period or the style.

 

St. Anthony of Padua

You don’t have to be religious, Christian or Catholic to appreciate saints. Every tradition recognizes those whose lives, thoughts, or actions are worthy of attention. The particulars may not suit your sense or sensibilities, but these people represent the possibilities of being human—possibilities to which we may not personally aspire, but possibilities that still may inspire.

Today is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. The reasons for his sainthood involve his devotion and his preaching of the faith (he is often pictured with the baby Jesus and a book). His preaching was reportedly not limited to people:

Once, when St. Anthony of Padua attempted to preach the true Gospel of the Catholic Church to heretics who would not listen to him, he went out and preached his message to the fish. This was not, as liberals and naturalists have tried to say, for the instruction of the fish, but rather for the glory of God, the delight of the angels, and the easing of his own heart. When critics saw the fish begin to gather, they realized they should also listen to what Anthony had to say. (Catholic Online: Saints & Angels)

St. Anthony is the patron saint of the poor and of travelers, but is best known in popular Catholic culture as the patron saint of lost things. Though some have invoked him—successfully and unsuccessfully—with a simple childlike verse (“Dear St. Anthony look around/Something’s lost that can’t be found”), the story and meaning is explained more fully by others:

Since the seventeenth century Anthony has been frequently invoked as the finder of lost articles. When a novice took his Psalter without permission, Anthony prayed for its return. After a frightening apparition, the novice rushed to restore the book to its rightful owner. (Lives of the Saints: From Mary and St. Francis of Assisi to John XXIII and Mother Teresa)

In 1224, Francis entrusted his friars’ pursuits of studies to Anthony. Anthony had a book of psalms that contained notes and comments to help when teaching students and, in a time when a printing press was not yet invented, he greatly valued it. When a novice decided to leave the hermitage, he stole Anthony’s valuable book. When Anthony discovered it was missing, he prayed it would be found or returned to him. The thief did return the book and in an extra step returned to the Order as well. (Catholic Online: Saints & Angels)

Anthony should be the patron of those who find their lives completely uprooted and set in a new and unexpected direction….God did with Anthony as God pleased—and what God pleased was a life of spiritual power and brilliance that still attracts admiration today. He whom popular devotion has nominated as finder of lost objects found himself by losing himself totally to the providence of God. (Franciscan Media)

From the National Shrine of St. Anthony:

Prayer to Find What Is Lost

St. Anthony, when you prayed, your stolen book of prayers was given back to you. Pray now for all of us who have lost things precious and dear. Pray for all who have lost faith, hope or the friendship of God. Pray for us who have lost friends or relatives by death. Pray for all who have lost peace of mind or spirit. Pray that we may be given new hope, new faith, new love. Pray that lost things, needful and helpful to us, may be returned to our keeping.

Feeding the poor. Preaching to fishes. Finding lost things. Sounds like a full feast day.

A Day for Job

In the Orthodox Church, today is officially a day for the marvelous and mysterious biblical character Job, who is called by that church Righteous Job the Long-Suffering. While the Book of Job is certainly read, used and debated in other Jewish and Christian traditions, this is the only official recognition he gets.

I’ve written before about Job (Yom Kippur and Job, The Radical Book of Job) because there is nothing like it in the Bible, not even close. Robert Alter writes in his enlightening translation and commentary:

The Book of Job is in several ways the most mysterious book of the Hebrew Bible. Formally, as a sustained debate in poetry, it resembles no other text in the canon. Theologically, as a radical challenge to the doctrine of reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, it dissents from a consensus view of biblical writers—a dissent compounded by its equally radical rejection of the anthropocentric conception of creation that is expressed in biblical texts from Genesis onward. Its astounding poetry eclipses all other biblical poetry, working in the same formal system but in a style that is often distinct both lexically and imagistically from its biblical counterparts.

“The patience of Job” is the way the story is frequently summarized, suggesting that even in the face of undeserved suffering, Job is a model of how unwavering faith will carry us through the worst times. Once you have read the Book of Job carefully, along with some of the many excellent interpretations, you find that this is not the case. The Book of Job does not solve any mysteries or answer any questions. All it does is deepen mysteries and ask more questions. This isn’t what we might want, but if you’ve lived a life, you know that is what you get. Which is precisely what makes the Book of Job so irreplaceably essential, even if not particularly comforting.