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Saturday, August 31, 2019

AM YISRAEL CHAI!!

I hope the title hasn’t already turned anyone off, because I’m using that beautiful battle cry in a rather different way here. It begins with mulling over the meaning of the name ‘Israel’ as described in Genesis.
When Yaakov (Jacob), which means ‘the supplanter’, came to the ford of the Jabbok river, the story says he wrestled with an angel through the night until shortly before the sun rose. And the last thing this ‘angel’ told him was, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” (Genesis 33:28, NIV)
Full stop right here, everybody.
The name ‘Yisro-el’, or Israel, apparently means ‘s/he who has struggled with God and other humans, and has prevailed.
Say what?! Someone has striven with God…and prevailed??!!
Anyone can say that the idea of ‘prevailing’ in a struggle with God is like a little boy who imagines he really has knocked down and bested his father in one of those mock-fights good fathers give their sons when they’re small — and they’d be right to say so.
But let those same parties answer this question: how secure does a man’s sense of being a man need to be to let his small son(s) think that he has, or they have, bested Dad in such a fun tussle? Could an adult male insecure in his manhood do that? Allow me to doubt that, and deeply too.
Another aspect of this story is: nowhere in the ancient Middle East, or around the eastern Mediterranean, is there such a god that allows a human being to even imagine that s/he has prevailed in a struggle with the god.
By way of contrast, look at ancient Greece’s stories of the gods: Zeus was so outraged at Prometheus giving fire to humans that he chained him on Mt. Caucasus and had a vulture eat his liver daily. And then the liver grew back to be eaten again the next day. And this happened for a few hundred years, until Prometheus told Zeus something which secured his throne.
And note further the story of Arachne, in which Arachne thinks she can weave at least as well as the goddess Athene — who, of course, is there in no time to prove herself. Athene weaves a tapestry showing all the mightay-mightay deeds of the gods, while Arachne weaves a pattern showing all the gods’ abuses of power over mortals. The story relates that Athene ‘could not forbear to admire, yet her indignation over Arachne’s insult mastered her’ and she destroyed Arachne’s tapestry and, in a manner of speaking, turned Arachne into the first spider.
And gods like that were what prevailed all over the ancient eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, except for the God of Israel, who did not (and still does not) destroy those who struggled, and who struggle yet, with Him, but Who, rather, acknowledges those who strive with Him and with other humans by renaming them according to that very struggle!
Again — everybody stop…and just let the implications of this sink in!
Most scholars of the Tanakh (which most of my fellow Christians call the Old Testament) will agree that the children of Israel as led by Moshe were almost anything but the best material for making and building a nation. Hence they roamed for forty years, until a generation with no memory of Egyptian slavery came of age.
And most of them will (at least the ones I appreciate) follow that observation up with, their being almost anything but ideal material is an important point of the whole story. But there were enough among them willing to first trust, and then to struggle, with YHWH to keep the ball rolling. Sometimes, Scripture tells us, it was only one person as in the time of Elijah.
The only other place I remember hearing about such a god was in a Native American story where humans were endeavoring to climb into Heaven and the Great Spirit was pleased by their spirit. If anyone knows more details (including which nation or nations tell it) about this story, please share them with me.
The basic point here is, such struggling is not only normal but what God Himself wants us to do with Him! He does ask us to trust him, yes, but trust can be conditional and/or wary and God can and does deal with that in such people.
But He doesn’t ask, indeed might well refuse, the absolute submission which too many faux-spiritual megaphones claim He requires. Not so; it is they who demand absolute submission from their ‘sheep’ who they first fleece and too often, sooner or later, send to slaughter while being quite safely behind the battle lines themselves!! This goes for any label, be it ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’ or anything else!

I know this firsthand: many was the time I asked God what I should do and heard no answer. It took me years to see that I was being asked to develop my own judgment with God’s help. Can there be a way to incorporate all of any nation who struggle so with God into Israel? Were, or are, Christianity and Islam supposed to be such a way or ways? Think about this and let’s see some serious feedback on that question and others which I hope this post raises.
Finally, only God can say when all the purposes of His pilot group (aka Am Yisrael, aka the Jews and other Hebrews) are fulfilled. For Christians, Muslims or any other mortals to make such a pronouncement is both ridiculous and sacrilegious — yes, you read that second word quite rightly!

We can speculate on what God might have in mind for them, but that’s as far as it should go. I personally believe Israel has such glory ahead of it beside which the ancient kingdom of Solomon will be like a flickering single candle beside a thousand-watt floodlight!
So yes, indeed, and in more ways than occur to us at the moment — AM YISRAEL CHAI!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL

I'm pretty sure I haven't mentioned this before, but I have a Youtube channel with the name of Proudscalawag and a growing number of songs written and sung by your obedient servant. I hope before y'all cringe, you'll visit it and check out some songs. Here are some links to some in particular. This first one is dedicated to ammosexuals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=np5KQWQ_uDk&t=2s
And this next one is dedicated to the avatar of ammosexuals and their allies,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fcywnO89zE&t=2s
This is a cheerier tune. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSO3yXSEbAU
And two songs with more spiritual material:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbiRSBLZvHc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2FypUx5IXc

Hope you enjoy at least some of what's here and others on my channel. If you do, please share them round.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

SELF-VINDICATION v. TRUST

Today, two sentences in (Oswald) Chambers’s meditation strike me with exceptional strength: first, “No [person] ever receives a word from God without instantly being put to the test over it.” If my spiritual journey is anything to go by, I can testify to that from both firsthand experience and — well, I’m not sure how ‘secondhand’ it might be, since I’ve seen both my late first wife and my current wife tested that way. In any case, I’ve been so tested myself and have seen both my wives so tested.
The second sentence is, “The Spirit of God unearths the spirit of self-vindication; he makes us sensitive to things we never thought of before.”
Ye who deride the sensitivities of others (usually while nursing remarkably snowflaky sensitivities of your own!), beware of this; know ye have chastising judgment in store for you! It is to you I say, if you’re trained to be obedient, here is One to Whom you must be obedient above all, and if Jesus renders us sensitive to things of which we never thought before, maybe an expansion of your snowflake sensitivities toward others who don’t necessarily look or speak or worship as you do is in order! Maybe even an extension of your sensitivities towards other creatures as well!
I have a stern word or two also for those who are prepared to have their sensitivities so expanded or who have had them expanded already: I think this is a time for compassion, not for triumphant mockery. Believe me when I say I know how sorely tempting such mockery is now; I confess I’m not immune to that temptation by any means except Deo Gratias. It is you who seem to better understand what Chambers means in the next and final paragraph: “When Jesus brings a thing home by His word, don’t shirk it. If you do, you will become a religious humbug. Watch the things over which you shrug your shoulders, and you will know why you do not go on spiritually.”
Oh, how tempting it is to gloat over those words! Am I not right about that?
This is why standing at least 90 degrees from some things in the culture with which we grew up is so important. It is important because we all need to draw a line between our culture and God’s commands: it is far too easy, as we see today, to conclude that “The code of [fill in the blank] holds everywhere!” to borrow a phrase from an old TV show. It’s also too easy to conclude that God wants us to take out some anxiety (usually involving worries about masculinity) on the rest of the world. Expansion of feelings for other breathing creatures, I suggest, especially those who are less ‘like us’, is an important key to whether it is God or his rebel working on us in this and other ways. That is also an important way that our faith and trust in God expands. Think about it.

Friday, July 26, 2019

BE LIBERAL — LOOK AT BEHAVIOR PATTERNS, NOT (REAL OR IMAGINED) SKIN TONES!!




Our Mr. Brooks (David Brooks) has caught me by a large thought today. He muses on how many of my fellow ‘white’ liberals and progressives now wear ‘lenses’ through which they see many more things in this country in racial terms. I also see many things in this country through those lenses; those lenses are often necessary in this country. But in terms of looking at other places around this slowly-cooking globe, their utility can be and often is quite limited. In some other places, such as Latin America and the Arab/Muslim world, they are also necessary, all the more so since too many people in both regions will tell you that such lenses are Completely Unnecessary Here! Istagfarallah, we are Far Too Enlightened for that — as you pass a market where African men are being sold. That’s right, sold. The slave trade liveth yet in Libya and in other very carefully out-of-the-way spots in North Africa and the rest of the Muslim world. That slave trade has been going on for fourteen centuries and has been, to date, between eight and twelve times as lethal as the transatlantic slave trade!







Thursday, July 25, 2019

OSWALD AND ME

Sixteen days ago, I recommenced reading Oswald Chambers’s book, My Utmost For His Highest. It seems to be one of those books that, while it may be tough reading the first time, improves considerably with subsequent ones. It’s one of those books you can have on the shelf for years and then, dipping back into it, discover many treasures in it which you didn’t see years before.
Today, the first sentence which really struck home with me was, “For instance, the Beatitudes seem merely mild and beautiful precepts for all unworldly and useless people, but of very little practical use in the stern workaday world in which we live.”
‘Unworldly and useless people’. Is there anyone reading this post who hasn’t, at least intermittently, felt that way about themselves? I know that’s how I feel about myself too often for comfort. How many of us feel like real worldly success stories, really? Then again, God seems to have a habit of picking up those who are seen and/or see themselves as worldly failures and teaching them to ‘aim’ for Him and His Heaven as opposed to earth. C.S. Lewis made the observation that, “Aim at Heaven and you’ll have Earth ‘thrown in’; aim at Earth and you will get neither.” He uses caring for one’s health as an analogy on page 104 of Mere Christianity, ISBN 0–02–086940–1.
Allow me to add a caveat here: we do need to stay focused on Heaven; there is always the danger of making the winning of Earth the end rather than a side matter.
Chambers’s devotion touches on this with the next sentences. “We soon find, however, that the Beatitudes contain the dynamite of the Holy Ghost. They explode….when the circumstances of our lives cause them to do so. When the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance one of these Beatitudes…..we have to decide whether we will accept the tremendous spiritual upheaval that will be produced in our circumstances if we obey His words. That is how the Spirit of God works.”
For some reason, this passage reminds me that, for all of us, our spiritual lives — that is, what we believe in and act on — is both backdrop to, and the ultimate aspiration of, our lives. If anyone thinks otherwise, feel free to say so, but include the ‘why’ of your belief, always. According to St. John, Jesus said the same thing: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
This is what God does, always. He takes the washouts, the failures, the smallest and the most peripheral among us and infuses them with the dynamite of His Holy Spirit. Does not the very Statue of Liberty have a poem identifying all of us, or our ancestors, as having been just that once on a time? When peoples and countries who begin in that way forget such beginnings, they forget who they really are and they also forget God. Nothing I can think of testifies to how many of us have forgotten both God and our abject startings with more eloquence than what we are doing right now on our southern border. There are other such testimonies, to be sure, but that particular one sounds loudest in my ears right now.
To shut a door against genocidal killers is not the same as to bar the door against abject refuge-seekers, so no comparison of this to Israel’s wall is warranted. In this country, the latter is what we now permit our government to do and which we’d better change right smartly if we want to avoid the fate of forgetful and declining empires. Before a people, or peoples, who we see as inconsequential prove themselves very much otherwise.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

ANOTHER BAD TIME IN OUR HISTORY (WITH SOME PROLOGUE)

The 1890s were an awful time quite a lot like now.
The prologue to the 1890s can be said to begin in 1877. Three things happened in 1877 that cast a long shadow over the subsequent years, even unto this very day. First, an election commission declared Rutherford Hayes, the Republican, the presidential victor of the 1876 election--by a single electoral vote. And he was so declared with the understanding that the last Federal troops would be withdrawn from the remaining ex-Confederate states that allowed their votes to go for Hayes. And, indeed, shortly after Hayes's inauguration, those troops were withdrawn, leaving the freedmen to their own devices to fight their disenfranchisement, and the terror unleashed upon them by the white peckerwoods as best they could. In 1896, after nearly two decades of lynchings and other terroristic methods (and stout resistance from African-Americans and a few white allies), Plessy v. Ferguson allowed the states to make Jim Crow (and the disenfranchisement of people of color) law in all the old slave states, Union and Traitor (yes, including Delaware). I am ashamed to say such a noteworthy jurist as Oliver Wendell Holmes, a member of the G.A.R. himself, actually wrote, "If the majority of the population is determined to disenfranchise the Negroes among them, there is nothing this Court can do about it." There were three dissenters, led by John Harlan, himself a Southerner.
The third occurrence in 1877 was what became known as the Great Strikes, which began in Pittsburgh against the Pennsylvania Railroad when that company cut its workers' wages by 25 percent. When the Pittsburgh state militia refused to fire on the strikers, the bosses and their political slaves brought other militia in from Philadelphia to forcibly end that strike. The 1890s were to see both the 1892 Homestead steel strike against Carnegie Steel and another railroad strike, this time at Pullman, in 1894. That strike was the one which brought Eugene Debs, who was, according to contemporaries, as kind and generous a man as ever most of them had known, to the fore as a labor organizer. From 1877 through into the Thirties (with World War I as a sort-of interlude), much of the laboring population of the North was still trying to struggle out of semi-starvational conditions. And now a probable majority of working people are struggling not to return to that unhappy state.
An element present in the 1890s whose counterpart, if there is one, today, I cannot perceive, is the Farmers’ Alliance, Colored Farmers Alliance, and the Grange. These were small-farmer organizations which fought the railroads, banks and their boughten political slaves. Everywhere they struggled to make their voices heard against state-sponsored political terrorism and in the old slave states against state-sponsored racial terrorism as well. These organizations were the primary building block of the People’s, or Populist, party. By 1892, this party was strong enough to field a presidential ticket, which won 22 electoral votes. In 1896, they joined with the Democrats under William Jennings Bryan. Just how smart this was I’m still not sure, but the Midwestern Populists, who had made common cause with the out-of-power Midwestern Democrats, won out over the Southern Populists who had had to defend themselves against terrorism from in-power Southern Democrats.
Both the 1896 campaign and the Plessy decision fractured the biracial farmers’ coalition in the South.
This time we cannot afford to let anything fracture an all-races coalition of poor and working people, once such a coalition is fully built. And it neither can nor should be inextricably tied to any current political party! As for being the nucleus of a new progressive party….well, time will tell. In any case, we as a nation have been here before and it’s up to us to make as sure as we can that we never return to this!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A CERTAIN KIND OF LOVE (IS IT ALL WE NEED?)

"Pride is the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins. Ask the Lord to humble you."
So say some clerics and others among the wise.
Now let's pause and ask, what do we generally associate with being humbled? Some great loss or series of losses that puts our pride in the dust? Tell the truth, y'all. How many of us think that's what humbling means?
Personally, my greatest humbling comes with the realization, sinking in below the neck, that I really am LOVED. My dear wife actually believes I really rock and acts accordingly. And when someone 'with skin', to use a four-year-old's expression, loves you and yet knows your imperfections--when this is truly a love between equals--I know of nothing more humbling than that to anyone with half a conscience. And God's love for us becomes all the plainer thereby as well. For many of us who are Christians, realizing the depths of God's Love in Jesus brings forth such a humbled mindset. At least I think it ought to. And this is what the breaking of patriarchy can lead to more of: love between equals.
Love between us and animals and/or children is a great and good thing too, but it's not between equals. And no reader of mine who is a parent cannot know how quickly the worshipful expression in a small child's eyes becomes the skeptical look of a pre-teen and then the mixed looks of teenagers. There's a lot to go through before THAT'S between adults more or less, not so? That is, for those who can reach that point.
I have to wonder: is this something of which patriarchy's defenders are deathly afraid? Do they disbelieve in such love to the extent that they'll die with their false prides (and likely take most of us with them) rather than open themselves to such love? Maybe this is really the heart of the question, but anyone with different ideas is more than welcome to say otherwise. Just argue civilly and to the point; that's all I ask.