Saturday, December 22, 2012

Show Us the Way

I received many thoughtful emails regarding my post on speaking Christianity. One asked what a Jewish response to Newtown might be. There was, of course, one Jewish boy, six-year-old Noah Panzer (alav hashalom) murdered in that slaughter, and I don’t know what his rabbi said to his parents or to the community. I don’t plan to address that. Instead I want to respond from a broader base, one that might highlight a difference between Judaism and Christianity.

Christianity and Judaism share a common theme.

Centuries before King Herod’s efforts to find and murder the newborn King of the Jews, Pharaoh sought to do the same to Moses. Jewish tradition tells us that, like Herod, Pharaoh too was warned that a liberator was about to be born among the Hebrews, and his mass slaughter of all newborn Hebrew boys was an effort to kill this would-be savior.

Both Moses and Jesus survive to confront their respective versions of the domination system: the ruling plutocrats who control others through violence and intimidation, strip people of life, liberty, dignity, and property, and mask their evil in the name of good, claiming that God wills it, and worshipping Pharaohs and Caesars as divine.

But here our stories diverge: Jesus dies at the hands of evil. Moses does not. The victory of Jesus is his resurrection, not the overthrow of Rome. The resurrected Jesus leaves Rome intact. Jesus’ kingdom is no longer of this world, and Christianity turns toward the afterlife for justice and vindication. Any hope that the followers of Jesus would overthrow the domination system ends when they become the Holy Roman Empire, and find themselves perpetuating domination in the name of the very one who died opposing it.

Moses, on the other hand, led his people (Hebrews and the Gentile mixed multitude) out of the domination system into the wilderness and ultimately into Canaan where his God had commanded him to establish a new world order based on distributive justice and compassion for the poor and powerless. Of course as any ancient Canaanite or contemporary Palestinian will tell you, Moses’ people have yet to achieve God’s ideal, but at least they are called to try.

Where Christians are called to find hope in the midst of horror, Jews are called upon to be that hope. Where faith in the Christ Child is faith in a new world sometime in the future; trust in Moses is trust in our capacity to create that new world today.

So what is a Jewish message to the people of Newtown? First, grieve. In Judaism we have a powerful system of grieving. We begin with a week of intense mourning, followed by a month of testing our capacity to return to life even as the tug of the dead pulls at us. Then we have eleven months of slowly making peace with our new reality, never forgetting the dead but turning our attention back to the living, and life itself. And then, on the anniversary of the death, we memorialize our dead, and remember them for a blessing.

So I would say to the people of Newtown to first grieve without restraint. Shut the town down (figuratively if not literally) for a “week” (however they define this time). Then take the next eleven months to rethink what it is to be a town, to look at the evil embodied in our civic, corporate, media, and even religious lives. Look to where we are caught up in a domination system that demonizes the other and oppresses the powerless. Not statewide, not nationally, but locally. And work together to reinvent Newtown as a new town. To leave the world of Pharaohs and Herods, and the organizations that support them, and create something new: a new way to be a community based on distributive justice, compassion, and the dignity of every being.
And then to begin implement this dream as best they can, and in this way be a light unto the peoples of America.

The emails I am receiving urge me to trust God, and to have faith that God has a plan for Newtown. I don’t doubt this. I only suggest that the people of Newtown are the vehicle for God’s plan.

So I would say this: Don’t look to God to make this right. God is looking to you to make things right. Don’t wait for the NRA or Congress or the Connecticut state legislature to change, make the change yourselves. Take up your cross—the death of your children and their teachers—and leave the insanity of Herod and Pharaoh and the leaders of the domination system who masquerade as protectors of liberty, and transformation in your own town. Show us the way, because if you wait for us, you will wait forever.


andrea perez said...

Thank you.

Sue said...


Lynne said...

Another "breathtaking",. . . from me.

I am sharing your previous post, and this, with friends who may not be following you.

Grieve . . . now . . . let us recognize it as so . . .

Fraser said...

I think we are mixing up christianity and Jesus. They are two very different things I think.
I would disagree with all the characteristics you have expressed of Christian faith. Not that they are incorrect but that they are not Jesus' teachings. That is as you say post Roman church but I think the marrow of Christ as much more like what you have expressed of Judaism. Christianity is Jewish ... or is supposed to be. I forget who said it but I think "Christianity is not a failure it just hasn't been tried yet" says it all.
It should be just like the picture you paint here. Realised eschatology I think it is called. "The Kingdom of heaven is among you".

Rabbi Rami said...

I tried to avoid mixing Jesus and Christianity. I though I even said that, but if I wasn't clear, let me say that Fraser is right, sort of: Jesus is Jewish, his teaching was a form of Judaism, but Christianity--the worship of Jesus as God--is not Jewish and cannot be. The reason we don't know where Moses is buried is to prevent Jews from praying to him or making a shrine of his burial site. Over time Jews abandoned this aspect of Judaism and pray to lots of Hasidic rebbes and Kabbalistic masters, and have turned many graves into shrines. People gravitate toward magic, it is part of our nature I guess.

Ty said...


"A Good Time to Speak Christian" and "Show Us the Way" are pure "Gospel According to Rami" and they should receive at least as much press as the Pope's Christmas message will.

It took me years of 'professional' ministry before I saw the difference between the religion ABOUT Jesus and the religion OF Jesus. Even so, a part of me would still prefer a magical Jesus who would fix my world for me, than to have to do the work myself.

Years ago, theologian Robert McAfee Brown wrote a short story that began, "Once upon a time, God lived at the North Pole."

Yes, Virginia, we "Christians" still believe in Santa Claus!

May God bless us all anyway--Ty

Tricia Datené said...

I believe that Christianity is about God’s love for us, as shown by Jesus. Jesus showed us a new way to relate to God: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”.

The Apostle James expanded on Jesus’ teaching. His belief was that love is best shown in action. "My brothers, what use is it for a man to say he has faith when he does nothing to show it? Can that faith save him? Suppose a brother or a sister is in rags with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, 'Good luck to you, keep yourselves warm, and have plenty to eat', but does nothing to supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is in itself a lifeless thing." (James 2:14-17).

God is experienced in the world through the everyday lives of people. Faith is love shown in our relationship with others and with the earth.

Karen said...

Thank you - I am sharing this post. I believe in the power of prayer, but prayer without action, when it's called for, is missing the point of living in the world. As attractive as a contemplative live can be, most of us are called to be our brothers and sisters' keepers - in the sense that we are all one, and share in a common humanity.

Fraser said...

Thanks Rami and yes you did. I wrote my thing and noticed afterwards. Magical thinking abounds. Folks always think if you plant pumpkin seeds you may just reap watermelons if you pray to the right person.
The worship of Jesus as God has got me thinking.Is that a Jesus thing or a Christianity thing I wonder? He got stones hurled at him for ranging in close to that but it may be more of a "the Father and I are one" thing which I think is true for everyone so long as we realise in the relationship we are the wave and not the ocean. Would the Adonai Adonai that Moses experienced talk to this?