(No post yesterday, because I was still on Easter vacation. So I thought now might be a good time to start sifting through the backlog of cool quotes I’ve been collecting.)
We often perceive single-parent families as abnormal, dysfunctional, deficient, dirty, indecent, cursed, doomed to failure. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In the words of Pamela Slim, “As the child of an amazing single mom, I can say wholeheartedly that a home filled with love is not broken. By definition, it is whole, powerful and holy.”
The reality is more complicated than our prejudices. Life is complicated, and this is not an exception to life.
Check out Pam’s latest book, Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together.
Tomorrow is a very special Sabbath, Shabbat Pesach. I spent almost two whole days this week wrestling over which songs to play in service. I probably overdid it, yes.
As a result, however, this is my excuse for a Friday post this week.
The three best things about being a Gentile living in a Jewish home at Passover:
- Buffalo chicken and blue cheese dressing on matzah.
- Liverwurst-matzah sandwich (with mustard).
- Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and matzah.
This is not crazy. Rather, because I’m a Gentile, it’s perfectly kosher for me to eat pork and to mix meat and milk. But Jewish homes contain no chametz during Passover, none, not even a little. Even a Jew’s dog goes unleavened during those 8 days. How much more so the husband of a Jew?
So no bread, no doughnuts, no cake, no cookies. Not really a problem for me, as I’m not supposed to be eating those anyhow. But a bacon double cheeseburger (without the bun)? No problem.
P.S. I actually don’t eat much matzah, either. Because it too is bread, and is loaded with carbs.
Today is the first day of the omer. Actually, it began last night.
Beginning with the second day of Passover, Jews begin counting the days. For 7 weeks they count, 49 days. This is called “Counting the Omer,” laid out in Leviticus 23:15-17. The omer was a measure of grain, an offering of thanksgiving for the freedom of Pesach. On the second day of Pesach, an omer of barley was brought to the Temple as an offering. The counting culminates with day 50, which is the holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, the holiday of Pentecost. Shavuot is a like a Hebrew Thanksgiving, and on this day, two loaves made of wheat were offered in the Temple. Jews don’t go to the Temple today, because there is no Temple right now; but they still offer prayers and thanksgiving to God for all that he’s given us. Many decorate their homes and synagogues with greens and flowers, to remember the harvest. Some stay up all night studying Torah. And they read the Ten Commandments in the morning service.
In Jewish tradition, Shavuot is when God gave the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai, and Israel became a nation, rather than just a bunch of refugee slaves escaped from Egypt. If Pesach is the holiday of chaos and questions and upheaval and dramatic miracles (and it is), then Shavuot is a holiday of fulfillment. And so Jews count the days between Pesach and Shavuot, and they pray each day, and wait for the fulfillment of the promise.
Tony Campolo popularized the line in his famous sermon, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming.” He tells the story of an old, black preacher from the church he grew up in, who delivered a simple sermon with a profound message:
It was Friday. It was Friday, and my Jesus is dead on the tree. But that’s Friday. Sunday’s a-comin’.
Friday. Friday Mary’s cryin’ her eyes out. The disciples are runnin’ in every direction, like sheep without a shepherd. But that’s Friday. Friday. Sunday’s a-comin’!
Friday. Friday, those are looking at the world and saying, “As things have been, so they shall be. You can’t change nothing in this world! You can’t change nothing in this world!” But they didn’t know, it was only Friday. Sunday’s a-comin’!
Friday! Friday, them forces that oppress the poor and keep people down, them forces that destroy people, them forces is in control, and them gonna rule. But they don’t know, it’s only Friday! Friday!
But Sunday’s a-comin’!
In Tony’s retelling of the story, the old preacher went on for an hour and a half, riffing off that one line: “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin’.” It was inspirational. It was salvation personified. It was peace, love, and miracles.
“And the Spirit of God that possesses us,” Tony concludes, “will motivate us to give ourselves to those who are suffering in a way that we have failed to do up to this day.”
When God meets our needs, and we bring our offerings of thanksgiving to him, it overflows into the world around us and brings salvation to the needy around us.
In other words, it ain’t Sunday’s a-comin’.
After Yeshua’s resurrection, he told his followers, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Sunday had come and gone. And they were left in suspense, with only a promise.
And so they counted the days. And they prayed. And they waited for the fulfillment of the promise. For 49 days after Passover, they counted, and prayed, and waited.
As Shavuot approached, many Jews from the Diaspora came to present their offerings for the Festival of Weeks in the Temple. So at this time there were many Jews from all around the world staying in Jerusalem. Then on the day of Shavuot, suddenly they heard the roar of wind, like a tornado blowing through the house where they were praying. And what looked like tongues of fire separated and came down on each of them. And the Ruach Hakodesh filled them, and they went out into the street and began speaking to the gathering crowd, in all the different languages of all the Jews that had gathered from the different countries from which they had come.
When the Israelites reached Mount Sinai, in Exodus 19, there were roarings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and the presence of God descended on the mountain in a cloud of smoke. And Moses climbed the mountain, for the people; and God spoke to the people, through Moses; and he gave them the Torah.
But now, says Peter, what God promised the prophet Joel, it has come true: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams. Your young men will see visions. And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out my Spirit.”
Because in that Shavuot after Yeshua’s resurrection, his followers made their own journey up Mount Sinai.
Climbing Sinai is a fundamentally transforming event.
As Paul Harvey once put it, ‘You can always tell when you’re on the road to success; it’s uphill all the way.’
We all grow up automatically. But growth, you have to be intentional about that.
Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, who was one of the great figures of the 19th-century Musar movement, he noted, ‘It’s easier to learn the entire Talmud – than to change even one character trait.’
That kind of growth only comes after years of learning, and trying, and even failing…
I think as Christians we often forget that Pentecost requires a climb, “uphill all the way,” up the Mountain of God. We forget that God’s grace requires our participation; that we are called by God’s Spirit to become more than we are, and our natural inclination is to fight this process every step of the way; that we need to be taught how to ask hard questions, and seek honest answers; that we must give ourselves to those who are suffering, if we expect God to be able to use us to alleviate their suffering. The bomb does not defuse on its own.
As Christians, we often focus on Yeshua’s redeeming sacrifice, and on his resurrection, in which the Apostle Paul said we would be united with him and which is a key aspect of our faith in him.
So you can imagine how important was this litany when Paul recited it to the Corinthians: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
“But,” he continues, “by the grace of God I am what I am. His grace which was given to me was not futile, but I worked more than all of them; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
This is the journey from Pesach to Shavuot, from Passover to Pentecost.
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Pesach meal with you before I suffer.”
Tonight begins the first night of Passover, of Pesach, the Jewish holiday of remembrance and living-out the Israelite escape from Egypt. It is a holiday of questions, of upheaval, of chaos, of suffering and deliverance. And for Christians, also the beginning of a significant spiritual change.
Yeshua pours the wine. Then he lifts up the cup and says the brachah: “Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” He drinks, then looks up at his disciples. “I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine,” he says, “until God’s kingdom comes.”
His disciples had the sense that he was going to miraculously overthrow the Romans and usher in a new age of Israeli peace, all in good time. Now they know, “good time” means “real soon now.” A great political upheaval is afoot.
This is Pesach.
He lifts up the bread and says the blessings: “Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, king of the universe, who sanctified us with his commandments, and commanded us concerning the eating of matzah.”
Then he starts breaking the hard unleavened matzah into pieces, handing them out to the disciples, and says, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.”
They eat the Pesach feast. And while they’re eating, Yeshua drops another bombshell: “One of you is going to betray me.”
The disciples stare at each other for a long moment, not knowing what to say, not knowing what to think. One by one, each of them begins to ask, “Surely, you don’t mean me?”
Which one will accidentally say something stupid, betray him to his political enemies? A political defeat against the Roman empire would almost certainly mean a charge of treason and official execution, possibly for all of them.
He says, “It’s the one who dipped his matzah into the bowl at the same time I did.”
The traitor eyes Yeshua suspiciously. He wonders whether he has been discovered, whether he’s in trouble, or in danger.
Peter whispers to John, “Ask him who he means.”
So John leans near to Yeshua’s ear and quietly asks, “Lord, who is it?”
He whispers back, “It is the one to whom I will give this bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
“Is it me?” the traitor whispers, taking the bread.
Yeshua tells him, “What you’re doing, do it quickly.”
And he leaves to help Yeshua’s political opponents get close enough to arrest him.
This is Pesach.
The other disciples think that it was just business, because one of the traitor’s duties is as the treasurer of their little conspiracy. So they assume Yeshua sent him out on some business or other.
They finish the festive Pesach meal.
Then comes the third of the four Seder cups, the Cup of Redemption, symbol of God purchasing their freedom from slavery. “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Because he passed through the land of Egypt, and killed all their firstborn. He executed judgment against the gods of Egypt. God purchased Israel’s freedom, bought them as slaves, for a price.
Yeshua pours the wine. He lifts the cup, says the brachah, and then adds, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. I am the price of redemption.”
Afterward, he prays late into the night, while his disciples wait. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Then betrayal, arrest, condemnation, execution. And resurrection—
This is Pesach.
In the modern Seder, bread is broken at several points. At Yeshua’s last Seder, the Temple was still standing, so the breaking of bread in the Gospel stories is probably the main blessing over the bread, before the meal. But in one of the rituals added after the destruction of the Second Temple, three matzot, which have been stacked one on top of the other and covered with a cloth, are uncovered. The leader takes the middle of the three, and breaks it in two pieces. The larger of the pieces is called the “afikomen.” He wraps the afikomen up in a napkin and hides it away until the end of the Seder. At that time, the children find it, and he “redeems” it from them, for a price. This broken matzah, the Talmud notes, is symbolic of the Paschal lamb, which the Jews were unable to sacrifice without the Temple. But no one really knows where the ritual comes from, or why it is hidden away and then later redeemed. It’s an open question.
This is Pesach.
This is the beginning of the Counting of the Omer, the 49 days between Passover and Pentecost, the journey from Egypt to Sinai, from slavery to freedom, from chaos to fulfillment.
According to Jake Shimabukuro, “It’s the instrument of peace, because if everyone played the ukulele, this world would be a much happier place.”
He said that at TED in February 2010, in the performance that kicks off today’s concert.
And then he set out to prove it by playing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the whole thing, solo, on his ukulele.
This post was actually inspired by a cryptic-to-a-non-musician but otherwise innocuous-looking circle-of-fifths chord chart, shared on Facebook by That ukulele-playin’ Neil Guy. Thanks to Facebook’s marketing, that led inadvertently to watching ukulele videos on YouTube, at which point I discovered some of what musicians are doing with ukuleles today, and it’s très kewl.
Therefore, I put together an ukulele concert, in the form of a YouTube playlist, of 48 minutes of some of my favorite online ukulele performances.
We start out with…
…Jake Shimabukuro, as I mentioned before, bringing peace to the world with his rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This is why the ukulele has the name “jumping flea.”
Then we travel across the pond to hear The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain—6 ukuleles and an acoustic bass, all tangled up in spaghetti—performing the theme to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (though they seem to have left the bad and the ugly at home that day).
The excitable and energetic—and rightly so!—ukulele trio Heart & Soul then joins us with a Hawaiian version of “Misirlou.” Makes me want to try surf skiing.
Enough with that amateur stuff, eh? Brittni Paiva proves that you can even play jazz on a ukulele— soulful jazz. Oy, I think I’m in love. (Don’t tell Margaret.) Seriously, though, she does a lot of covers, and every single one is better than the original. She and her ukulele passion make me remember why I fell in love with music in the first place, and makes me want to start playing my guitar every day again, like I did when I was young. (Maybe I might even get that good.) After the concert is over, check out Brittni’s albums.
As it turns out, there’s a great deal of wonderful ukulele music featured on the Hawaiian YouTube show HI*Sessions. A number of these artists have been featured there, including Brittni.
On the lighter side, James Hill turns his ukulele into a beat box. An amusing and entertaining interlude.
Now, some time ago, Walk Off the Earth did a version of “Somebody that I Used to Know,” all of them gathered around and playing a single guitar. When they went on Ellen, she made a crack about how it was good that they didn’t have to squeeze in around a ukulele. Therefore, today, the Waffle Stompers put their ska on hold, just long enough to show her a thing or two. Six people and 12 hands, all playing a single ukulele.
Juliana Richer Daily got a new ukulele as a gift, and makes me believe that even I could grok the intrument, with her cover of “L.O.V.E.” I could listen to her sing all day. Definitely check out her first and latest full-length album, Slow Love, which positively rocks.
And finally, The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra takes us out with the Theme to the Pink Panther (in German).
This post started with a cryptic comment…
…about the ukulele being the instrument of peace. That’s not as crazy as it sounds. Ukuleles for Peace is Paul Moore’s attempt to combine his love for the ukulele and his experience with kids, forming Arab-Israeli children’s ukulele orchestras.
Paul’s dream is to create orchestras in several communities and towns, enlarging the circle of real co-existence; enabling kids and parents to befriend one another; and with our modest abilities, helping to create a happier, better, peaceful society. There is a lot to be done in this area between the Arab and Jewish population in Israel. If the situation with the Palestinian Authority is safer, Paul would like to form a group there too. That will depend on a relaxing of travel restrictions and on parents feeling that things are safe enough for their children.
Frankly, of all of the attempts to bring peace to Israel and Palestine, this is one of the most likely to succeed. Political change occurs from the culture up (not from the rulers down). That’s why infecting a society with music has more potential to produce positive change than mobilizing all of the military might ever assembled.
And, oh, by the way, I now so want a U-Bass!
Here’s the concert video playlist
(This is part 3 in my series on 1 Corinthians 5. Click here to read from the beginning.)
Most of us probably imagine the first swingers as 1960′s hippies in a free-love commune. But in fact, it started earlier than that, in World War II. Christopher Ryan explains:
It seems that the original modern American swingers were crew-cut World War II air force pilots and their wives. Like elite warriors everywhere, these “top guns” often developed strong bonds with one another, perhaps because they suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch of the military. According to journalist Terry Gould, “key parties,” like those later dramatized in the 1997 film The Ice Storm, originated on these military bases in the 1940s, where elite pilots and their wives intermingled sexually with one another before the men flew off toward Japanese antiaircraft fire…
Joan and Dwight Dixon explained to Gould that these warriors and their wives “shared each other as a kind of tribal bonding ritual, with a tacit understanding that the two thirds of husbands who survived would look after the widows.”
I’m going to do something silly, anachronistic, and completely improbable. I’m going to retell the Story of the Corinthian Stepmother in these terms.
All we know from the Apostle Paul’s account of the story is the bare minimum:
It is actually reported that there is bad sexual behavior among you, and such a kind as exists not even among the pagans, that a man is having sex with his father’s wife! (1 Corinthians 5:1)
And Paul didn’t approve of this, no not one bit. And he demanded that the Corinthian church ostracize this guy, who was sleeping with his stepmother.
But what if we were to flesh out the details of the story?
An elderly Corinthian man took a young wife, whom he loved dearly. He knew his time on this earth was coming to much too quick an end. He expressed his concerns to his wife. And his wife proposed that his son, his heir, should also be bonded to her, so that after he was gone, she would not be a widow, but would be well taken care of.
Maybe a little self-serving on her part. But this certainly should have let the son off the hook. No, I don’t actually believe that narrative. But I tell it in order to focus not on what the Corinthian man was doing, but what Paul was really afraid of.
Off the top of my head, here are a few possibilities:
- He really was reacting to the wrong kind of people having the wrong kind of sex. (Remember, not an egalitarian society.)
- He was afraid the Corinthians would make Christians everywhere look bad, because word of them had spread far and wide.
- He was afraid they would make him look bad.
- He was afraid that this would give his fellow Jews another reason to reject Christianity.
- One or more of the above (to various degrees, plus others not listed).
I think most people naïvely assume option A. And that indeed may have been the only thing going through Paul’s mind. But I doubt it.
With regard to option B, Paul certainly cared how the church looked to the rest of the world. It’s even a theme expressed in 1 Corinthians: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (9:22-23). But more often, sexual conservatism in the modern world makes the church look petty and vicious. Not, I’m sure, what Paul had in mind.
The only thing option C has going for it is that Paul, like the rest of us, was human, a human being living in a human society. This life lesson I learned when my own father was pastor of a church, and some people blamed him when the church youth leaders left their respective families and ran off together. And we don’t know the social and political pressures Paul himself personally may have faced.
Option D is fairly intriguing. Remember, when Paul went to Corinth, in Acts 18, he started by talking to people in the local synagogue. But his fellow Jews there became abusive, and so he said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). And yet, he admitted in his letter to the Romans, “Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” This could have been on his mind, even when he wrote 1 Corinthians. Christianity, on the other hand, gave up on this vision many centuries ago.
Where does this leave us?
Bad sexual behavior, the Greek word porneia, was one of the items on the short halachah-for-Gentiles that came out of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15: “Abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from porneia.” In fact, porneia is the only item on this list that does not refer back to the covenant God made with Noah in Genesis 9.
Over the centuries, we’ve read into porneia all manner of idiocy. For example, Christians used to believe that women ought not to enjoy sex. They had to have sex, of course, because otherwise how could they become pregnant and bear babies? But they definitely shouldn’t enjoy it, because that was supposedly sinful. (And for all I know, some still might believe this.) That’s only one example. Only God knows the countless couples who have been condemned to marital misery because of this kind of nonsense. “Porneia” is so vague, part of me would have preferred the New Testament writers had simply left it out.
But they didn’t. And this is one reason I increasingly believe we need a more refined sexual ethic. If the end of ethics is to promote well-being, we need a sexual ethic that promotes sexual and emotional well-being.
But that’s another post.
The Talmud tells this story (in Berachot 60b):
Rabbi Akiva was once going along the road and he came to a certain town and looked for lodgings. But everywhere he went, he was refused.
He sighed and said, “Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.”
So because he couldn’t find a place to stay in the town, he traveled out of town, into an open field, and camped out there.
Now, he had with him a rooster, a donkey, and a lamp. But during the night, a gust of wind blew out his lamp, and so he had no light, and no protection. Then a weasel came and ate his rooster, so he had no one to warn him, or to wake him when the sun rose. Then a lion attacked and killed his donkey, so he had no transportation, not even any way to get back to town.
He sighed and said, “Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.”
Early in the morning, while Rabbi Akiva was still sleeping, a band of brigands attacked the town. They stole everything they could get their hands on and even carried off the inhabitants of the town. But they didn’t see or hear or even realize that Rabbi Akiva was there.
When he woke up and realized what had happened, he sighed and said, “Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.”
We can’t control everything in our lives. And often our lives even wipe out spinning careening out of control. Every human has an innate sense that tells him—correctly—that this is a really bad thing. And that’s why it’s disturbing, and distressful.
But there’s a wisdom in accepting the things you can’t control, and focusing on those things that you can. Just because you feel out of control, that doesn’t mean your life is a mess. It only means that you can’t predict right now exactly what you’re going to be 10, 20, 50 years down the road. Well, welcome to the club. Sometimes it turns out that the distressful things that happen to you, they actually were blessings in disguise.
(This is part 2 in my series on 1 Corinthians 5. Click here to read from the beginning.)
One marvels at the repetition of intentionally tragic stories, like Evergreene’s: After her Christian marriage ended in divorce, and after she slogged through the concomitant depression, she decided she’d be happier living a bisexual, polyamorous lifestyle. She hid her new lifestyle from her Southern Baptist friends and family, but not well enough.
“My mother wonders what went so monumentally wrong with how she raised me.” Answer: probably nothing. Believe it or not, despite what the book of Proverbs says, there’s precious little we parents can do to change the direction of our children’s lives. I plan to return to this in a later post, but basically the best a parent can do is to provide her children with a safe environment in which to discover themselves and the world they live in. If she failed, she only failed in that.
“My sisters think I’m sick and disgusting.” A common reaction to anything we think of as immoral. And it’s a learned reaction. Suppose I place before you a plate piled high with rotting meat covered with cockroaches, hand you a fork, and say, “Bon appétit!” Your stomach is probably turning a little just imagining it. But in some aboriginal cultures, they commonly eat bugs and other various items they find lying on the ground. It’s part of how they survive. If I handed the same plate to one of them, the reaction might instead be, “Ooh! What a feast!” as he rubs his hands together lustily.
Evergreene continues: “My father tells me screaming that I am no longer his family.” So much for what Paul says about not being an abusive person.
And the story only goes downhill from there:
“I have been told that I am an animal in heat, looking for an excuse to have sex with anyone,” which follows neither from being bi nor poly. And even if they didn’t understand that, they could have asked.
“I have been told that I am a prostitute and whore,” which is factually untrue, and repetitive and redundant, “who will inevitably contract AIDS and other horrible diseases,” which is just plain stupid.
“I have been told that I might as well think that having sex with siblings, children, and pets is acceptable.” Because we all know that consensual sex with other adults is worse than child rape. And judging by the way Christians react to some Baptist ministers, maybe that’s what they actually believe.
Awful, sick, twisted things that I could never imagine saying to a family member – even to another human being. All from Christians. These are godly, sweet people who are generous, loving, and funny—unless you’re different.
Did Paul mean to ruin Evergreene’s life?
If he did, I think he probably failed, because she picked up the pieces and moved on. Regardless, I would like to believe he did not mean to condemn egalitarian non-monogamy while letting child rapists off the hook.
This story in the Corinthian church started at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 5:
It is actually reported that there is bad sexual behavior among you, and such a kind as exists not even among the pagans, that a man is having sex with his father’s wife! And you are proud! … I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. (vv. 1,3)
The Greek word porneia, which I’ve translated “bad sexual behavior,” doesn’t really help us understand where Paul’s coming from. We tend to load it up with modern social conservatism. That’s certainly what Evergreene’s friends and family did. But even the mores of modern conservatives bear little resemblance to the mores of first-century Rome, and our modern society bears almost no resemblance to theirs, making broad ethical comparisons nigh impossible. We need more context.
One has to wonder what, specifically, this Corinthian guy actually did to evoke such ire.
The simplest narrative might go something like this: He walks up to his sexy stepmom, wraps his hand around her ass, and says, “Hey, baby, guess what. Let’s go.”
Remember, this is not an egalitarian society. The father naturally finds this far from acceptable. But the son knows he can get away with it, because his father isn’t going to disown his only son, even if he is a jackass and a social reject. Besides which, he’s got the whole church behind him.
Still not quite The Priest and the Choir Boy, but we’re getting close.
See, a narrative like this makes it easy to take Paul’s side, not because the apostle was moralizing, but because he was applying a culturally relevant moral principle in an ethical manner.
But moral obligations are like knee-jerk reactions: they’re quick, they’re broad, and they evoke strong emotions. They polarize the issue and cloud one’s judgement. Moral obligations are that gut feeling you get, that something isn’t quite right, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. And if you need to make an instant decision what to do, if it’s urgent, you go with your gut.
But if you can, you want to reflect a bit, to make sure you don’t fly off the handle, especially if the situation is not as black-and-white as it initially seemed.
So what if the ethics of the Story of the Corinthian Stepmother were less clear-cut?
Last week, I drove my daughter’s iPad down to her at to school.
One of the Blue Shirts there in the parking lot approached me and asked what I was doing, and told me, “we get a little concerned,” because I was waiting there for her. I figured, as soon as he realized I was a parent who had a legitimate reason to be at the school, that would be the end of the conflict. But during our short conversation, he repeated this line several times, “we get a little concerned.”
I said, “Sorry about that.” But what I was thinking was, “‘Concern’ on your part does not translate to a demand on mine.”
And maybe if I were a bigger asshole, I would have said, “Well, I’m sorry you feel concerned. Maybe if I bring you some milk and cookies next time, you’ll feel better. Would you like that?”
I really have to find a more constructive way of dealing with the Blue Shirts, because the nice-guy approach clearly isn’t working. Over the past 3½ years, I’ve had several unsatisfactory encounters. (And the sense I get from my daughters is that these are actually nice guys.)
The only other similar encounter I’ve had with a female teacher (who was not wearing a blue shirt), a couple years ago: I told her was meeting my daughter, and the very timbre of her voice became pleasant to listen to. I still remember smiling at her. I wish I could remember her name.
There’s a lesson in this: what the polyamorists call “owning your own shit,” and it’s a basic relationship ethic. It’s okay to feel however you feel. But it’s not okay to load it onto others. I am not responsible for how you feel. I am only responsible for what I do. Only you can manage your own happiness. This is an incredibly powerful—and empowering—concept. This means not turning feelings into demands. If I care about you, and you come to me and tell me that you were hurt when I did such-and-such, I may reconsider my behavior, if I can. (You’ve made a request, not a demand.) Or I may explain some part of the story you didn’t know about, and see if you then feel better about it. Or I might be unable to do anything.
But there’s another level to this, too, a flip-side: Only I can be responsible for my own actions and perceptions. If I’ve made a mistake, whether in acting wrongly, or in perceiving incorrectly, I ought to own up to it. (There’s that ethical language again.) Jenica Rogers (who as far as I can tell is not a polyamorist, but is apparently a Firefly fan) points out, “Owning your shit means taking responsibility for your actions, acknowledging their impact on others, and moving forward without trying to cover your ass.”
And I don’t know that you can do one without the other. Because managing one’s own happiness translates into action, and that action has consequences. And either one change his mind, or he stands by his actions; but in no case does he hide from what he’s felt and thought and done.
And I admit that I don’t always do this as well as I’d like to.
I really have to find some more constructive way of dealing with the Blue Shirts, because the nice-guy approach clearly isn’t working.
The Passover stuff is already out at the grocery store. At the other end of the store, an even greater selection of pastel-colored candy and related items.
But Pesach is still several weeks away, and first I have another bat mitzvah to think of. My Beloved will finally herself be called to the Torah in an adult bat mitzvah. Better late than never, as they say.
We’re all helping out. Our younger daughter is laining the day’s maftir portion. Our elder daughter is canting as chazzanit. And I am laining the New Testament reading for the day, which is from First Corinthians chapter 5:
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little khametz leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old khametz, so that you might be a fresh batch of dough, in the same way as you are unleavened. For our Passover lamb, the Messiah, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old khametz, nor with the leaven of ill-will and malice, but with the matzah of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
Okay, so I took a little liberty with the translation. But those of you who have read Walking in the Moment between Tick and Tock will be used to it by now.
The reason we read this on this particular Sabbath is because it’s Shabbat HaChodesh, literally, “the Sabbath of the Month,” called such because it is the last Sabbath before the Hebrew month of Nisan. According to Exodus 12, this is when God started the Hebrew year and instructed the Israelites on how to prepare for the coming Passover, two weeks later. And so in our Messianic Jewish synagogue, we also read 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, because Paul uses the metaphor of preparing for the Passover, of cleaning out all the chametz, all the leaven, from one’s home, and replacing it with Passover matzah, unleavened bread.
But I have a problem with this passage.
What problem could I possibly have with this?
After all, this short paragraph is all about getting rid of the hate and meanness from our lives and plowing forward toward the light of truth. Every year, around this time, somewhere in the country, some Jewish rabbi will preach that sermon. And they’re absolutely right: that’s part of the symbolism of Passover. And that’s the part of the symbolism that Paul is calling on here.
But if we continue reading, Paul will quickly yank us back to his intended message:
I wrote to you not to associate with those who indulge in illicit sexual intercourse—not at all meaning those of this world who do so… but… if someone calls himself a fellow Christian, but engages in illicit sexual intercourse, or is greedy or an idolater, or is abusive or a drunkard or a swindler— Do not even eat with such people! (vv. 9-11)
Paul here is not talking about just getting the bad behavior out of our own lives. He’s talking about ostracizing people. Granted, these are people whose identity is wrapped up in certain unethical behaviors. But human beings nonetheless.
Perhaps a post for another day involves going down this laundry list and examining how conservative Christian churches in the US in practice deal with them (or ignore them), especially items like greed, abuse, and the art of the swindle.
For the most part, however, conservative Christians focus on the first item in this list, which I’ve translated “illicit sexual intercourse.” It refers to the Greek word porneia, usually translated “sexual immorality.” The problem here is that with the term “sexual immorality,” we immediately load into porneia, all modern social conservatives’ restrictions on sex, along with our modern understanding of the morality system, neither of which Paul had access to. Paul knew first-century Jewish ethics, of course, and he had access to the Greek and Roman ethicists. But he didn’t know there would ever even be a Thomas Aquinas, much less an Immanuel Kant.
And this is where the story get interesting, ugly, and painful, but in the opposite order.
Just a heads-up to anyone who still may be reading this blog…
Passover is coming up starting on April 15 (that is, on the evening of April 14), and I have a number of posts lined up for the weeks between now and then, and the weeks following, including:
- Some of my not-so-Little-anymore One’s more recent drawings.
- A three-part series on 1 Corinthians 5.
- Some snippets from Walking in the Moment between Tick and Tock.
- A story about a cure for passive-aggressive behavior.
- A to-be-written series detailing all the things I want my teenage daughters to know about sex.
- Other stuff I haven’t thought of yet.
Oh, once there was a wicked, wicked man
And Haman was his name sir,
He would have murdered all the Jews,
Though they were not to blame sir
Oh today, we’ll merry, merry be
Oh today, we’ll merry, merry be
Oh today, we’ll merry, merry be
And nosh some hamantashen.
I posted a link to this classic children’s Purim song, earlier this week.
The first challenging thought that forces itself on me: What makes us think that Haman was “wicked”? I’ve written before about Haman’s humanity. There, but the for the grace of God…
The stories we tell affect how we think about the world. And our portrayal of Haman as nothing more than a “wicked, wicked man,” and rejoicing in his death, makes us no better than he. God himself takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). At a very basic ethical level, we ought not to rejoice in our enemies’ misfortune.
But moreover, the characters we focus on, we tend to become more like them. Jesse Walker, in The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, quotes Richard Hofstadter:
This enemy seems to be on many counts a projection of the self… The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various Christian anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication, discipline, and strategic ingenuity the Communist cause calls forth.
And then Walker spends over 400 pages demonstrating that this applies to all of us, whether we’re on the fringe or in the so-called mainstream.
If it’s odd to see Communists and McCarthyists concerned about conformity, it should be odder still to see the professed enemies of totalitarianism endorsing authoritarian measures. Instead it is common, and it has been for as long as totalitarianism has existed.
We become the people we hate, because those people are us.
In the words of psychoanalyst Albert Mason, in the documentary Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness:
What allows one group of human beings to annihilate another group is if they find a way of dehumanizing them. Now, you do that by taking aspects of yourself that you hate, that you feel are bad, despicable, and you want to disown them. And you put them into the victim. Then the victim is experienced as a disease or a scourge and can be annihilated.
For forgiveness to occur, the process must be put into reverse, where the victim has to see the perpetrator as not all bad or evil, and this can occur if they see that the perpetrator shows genuine remorse, guilt, and takes real steps to repair or rebuild the damage they’ve done.
Haman certainly made this error. And we, like Esther, make the same error, and thereby scar our own souls. We dump the worst that humanity represents into this one character and reason that, if only he were another sort of man, then all would have been well. I’d like to propose an alternative narrative, that Haman’s problem was not that he was wicked, but that he was powerful.
We forget, for example, that King Achashverosh (aka Xerxes) was informed of, and approved of, all that Haman had planned. If Haman’s wickedness is the fundamental problem, then genocide must be perfectly fine, as long as it’s not Jewish genocide. Or that if Jewish identity really had threatened Achashverosh’s lordship, then it would have been perfectly reasonable for him to have had them exterminated. I have trouble buying into that.
Lord Acton nailed it: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”
Haman’s downfall becomes merely another sad story of paranoia, influence, sex, and status, of the intolerant powerful’s fear of those they don’t understand and can’t respect, of their inability to live in peaceful civil society with others who believe differently than they do.
This is a story that applies directly to our modern politics, today.
And so maybe we should focus on our own attitudes and uses of power, rather than on our hate of a “wicked, wicked man.”
We also have yet to do a Spongebob-Squarepants-themed Purim spiel, inspired by the conceptual pirate-themed Purim spiel, and (conceptually) featuring (parodies of) such classic hits as “The Best Day Ever,” “The P.U.R. Song,” “The Very First Purim,” and “Mordechai’s Ripped Pants.”
(This year, our teens are doing a courtroom skit, whose climax is a parody of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”… “I see a little silhouetto of a man— With a noose! With a noose! And he’s building a gallows! Fifty-cubits-high thing, very very fright’ning me! Elohenu, Elohenu… baruch shem k’vod malchuto, malchuto… I’m just poor Mordecai; nobody loves me. He’s just a Jew from a Benjamite family. Spare him his life from this monstrosity! Easy come, easy go, will you let us go? Tefillah! No! Please do not kill the Jews— Kill the Jews! … Oy! Oy! Oy! Oy!… Oh Elohenu, Elohenu, Elohenu, let him go! The Aggagite has a devil of his own for me, for me. For me! [insert headbanging here]“)
But thanks to Brian Shamash, who (probably unintentionally) dressed up as a Jewish pirate, we can at least enjoy this silly children’s Purim song, and bask in the irony that the man whose name was blotted out forever turns out to be the antihero of the story. “And don’t forget we owe him thanks, for this jolly feast of Purim.”
Therefore, here’s a video of every conference call you’ve ever been in…
(Except for the one with the speakerphone that doesn’t quite work right, and you can’t understand anything anyone is saying.)
Ain’t technology great?!
I have to admit, it was way less entertaining back in the twentieth century.
Just a quick note: I think your thermostat is broken. The temperature is supposed to be in the 40′s.
Tim from New England
Or does God use a weather-control grid?
Yesterday, I discovered that it can be dangerous to shop at Target.
…wearing a red shirt.
I was walking along, minding my own business. I had been re-listening to season 1 of Gregg Taylor’s character Martin Bracknell’s radio play Black Jack Justice (one of my favorite latter-day online radio series). I had paused my smartphone’s podcast player and removed my earbuds, and was poking through my email, when a guy walked up to me.
“Hi. How’re ya’ doin’?”
“Hi. I’m fine.” Me, suspicious, interrupted.
“Do you work here?”
Then his friend called to him, “Hey, I think it’s over there.”
And the kicker: he was wearing a red shirt, too.
Where is a bona fide red-shirt when you need one?
P.S. Okay, so maybe not quite as dangerous as I originally implied. But enjoy these red-shirted photos anyhow:
We stay-at-home dads see this video from a special perspective:
Working moms, do something special for your husband-homemaker today.
And everyone, have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!
Looks like somebody left a little pea on the toilet seat…
Have a great weekend!
P.S. Photo courtesy my daughter, Abbie.
Links and things that I’ve run across recently.
… or not so recently.
Perl and other programming stuff
Some of what I’ve been doing during my absence from this blog, and some stories I hope to tell in more detail both here and on my software-development blog:
Tom Metro and I launched a new brand for our Perl project consulting: welcome to The Perl Shop.
I gave a talk on Perl 6 benchmarking, for our local Perl Mongers group, in December.
I also participated in the Dallas/Fort Worth Perl Mongers Winter Hackathon. I hope to write more about the experience, the reason I participated, and my data-deduplication solution, all on my SD blog.
Getting Drunk on Fringe
I’ve been slowly making my way through Fringe on NetFlix.
I discovered a new drinking game. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Watch Fringe with me.
Step 2: Take a drink whenever I spontaneously say, “Hey, wait! You can do that?”
That’s it. You’ll be drunk in no time flat.
All in all, however, I still think I like The X-Files better.
Ran across this on social media. Tracked it down to a Huffington Post piece (which credits NBC).
Briefly, this note of congratulations appeared in a local paper:
This was followed up by the following correction:
Pundits tend to write off political paranoia as a feature of the fringe, a disorder that occasionally flares up until the sober center can put out the flames. They’re wrong. The fear of conspiracies has been a potent force across the political spectrum, from the colonial era to the present, in the establishment as well as at the extremes. Conspiracy theories played major roles in conflicts from the Indian wars of the seventeenth century to the labor battles of the Gilded Age, from the Civil War to the Cold War, from the American Revolution to the War on Terror. They have flourished not just in times of great division but in eras of relative comity. They have been popular not just with dissenters and nonconformists but with individuals and institutions at the center of power. They are not simply a colorful historical byway. They are at the country’s core.