Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Middle East Peace: A Call for Proposals

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is initiating another round of talks between Israelis and Palestinians. You may be optimistic or pessimistic about the chances of anything coming out of these talks, but I'm curious about how you would solve the problem.

Imagine you could impose a peace deal on all parties. I say "impose" so you won't have to explain how you would negotiate your ideal settlement. Just tell us what you think that settlement should be: one state, two states, no states and just dump the whole mess on the British who made it, or what?

I look forward to reading your responses. And please feel free to respectfully respond to those of others.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Masonic Lobbies

According to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) during an 80 minute conversation with journalists on his airplane, Pope Francis said, “The problem is not having this orientation (homosexuality). We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.”

I’m not gay, or all that greedy or political, but I am a Mason, and I had no idea we had Masonic lobbies pressuring the church. I thought we let Dan Brown to that for us.

This history of the Church and Freemasonry is a rough one. And I am interested in any Masons reading this who might want to comment. And if you are in a Masonic lobby, please tell us what you do.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Future of the Church

Pope Francis is in Brazil for World Youth Day. According to USA Today part of the Pope’s mission is to help stop Catholics from abandoning the Church in favor of evangelical and often Pentecostal Protestant churches.

What is fueling the shift from Catholicism to Protestantism? According to the paper many Catholics prefer the ecstatic worship style of charismatic and Pentecostal churches, and find the message delivered there to be more relevant to their lives.

I asked an Hispanic pastor I know why this might be so. He said that people want to tap into something greater than themselves, and the ecstasy generated in some charismatic churches may do just that, while the more introspective nature of the Catholic Mass doesn’t.

As for the message Protestant churches offer and the Catholic Church lacks, he suggests it the Protestant focus on the individual: Jesus wants you to succeed and be wealthy, and will support you if you join the capitalist entrepreneurial cause. The Catholic message, he says, is more focused on helping the poor through social justice than it is on helping you out of poverty by faithfully embracing capitalism.

I have no way of testing these ideas, but I would love to hear from you on this. If you are Catholic, help us understand the challenges your church is facing, and why you think Catholics in Latin America are trending Protestant. If you made the change yourself, tell us why. If you are a life-long Protestant, tell us what you think is lacking in the Catholic Church and why Protestantism, especially in its charismatic and Pentecostal forms is so enticing to people.

Let’s see if we can learn from one another.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Not Guilty?

I don't get it. If you're a terrorist murdering people in the name of your God, why would you plead not guilty? If you are doing God's will why not be proud of your actions? Yet Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the alleged (alleged?) Boston bomber did just that. Seven times he claimed "not guilty" seven times he denied his God.

I suspect his lawyer told him to do this. But he should have refused. This kid is evil. What he did was evil. And the God who sanctioned it is evil. But at least he should have the courage of his convictions.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Our Father Who Art on Twitter

Pope Francis has just announced that he is granting plenary indulgences via Twitter to all Catholics who follow him on the social media service and who ask for such a boon. Plenary indulgences lessen the punishment one receives for sin both in this world and in Purgatory. I am a Twitter follower of the Pope, and I was going to request an indulgence, but it turns out you also have to be Catholic. Drat.

Not exactly sure what I was missing out on, I looked up indulgence in the Code of Canon Law: "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins the guilt of which has already been forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful obtains under certain and definite conditions with the help of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints".

Talk about “being under the Law”! This sounds more complicated than the software contracts I agree to when I update my computer programs. But if you are Catholic and you have sinned and confessed, you might as well Tweet the Holy Father and get the perks that only The Church can provide. I know I would. "Better safe than sorry" is my motto. Especially when it comes to Purgatory.

Have Gun. Will Travel.

At the risk of inviting the ire of some readers: two more comments related to the Zimmerman trial.


“No justice, no peace” is once again making the rounds as people unhappy with the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case take to the streets and the airways. The phrase itself, however, is ambivalent. Is it an assessment or a threat? Does it mean, “If there is no justice, then true organic peace is impossible,” (think of a peaceful totalitarian state—secular or religious—totally lacking in justice) or does it mean, “If you don’t give me justice as I define justice, then I will act violently”?

We have a justice system. It is flawed. It is biased. It can and should be continually evaluated and improved. But the way we do that isn’t by violence. As far as I know, violent reaction to the verdict has been minimal, but even nonviolent protesters chanting “no justice, no peace” leave me uneasy unless I know what they mean.


The Stand Your Ground law wasn’t part of this case, but the trial aside, the law is troubling. I live in a Stand Your Ground state. As I understand it, if I’m in fear of losing my life or sustaining serious bodily injury I can kill the person who is frightening me. Does this mean that had Trayvon killed George, and has invoked Stand Your Ground as his defense, he would have been acquitted? 

When living in Florida a guy in a pick-up truck who thought I said “F-you” rather than “Thank you” when he honked at me to slow down in a school zone chased me for many blocks until I finally pulled over and confronted him. When I told him what I actually said, he told me about his daughter being hit by a driver speeding through a school zone. We calmed down, chatted, and parted amicably. Had the Florida Stand Your Ground law had been in place, would I have been justified in killing this dad before we talked? I was pretty sure he was armed. Or, when I stopped and confronted him, would he have been justified in killing me, since he could see I was angry and could fear I was armed? 

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not anti-gun. I'm just trying to figure out whether nor not to buy a gun. It seems to me that the only logical response to living in a state with a Stand Your Ground law is to buy a gun, get a concealed weapon permit for it, and carry it with you at all times. Not that anyone in particular scares you, but you might scare someone else, and, since they may be carrying a gun, any altercation with that person would legitimately cause you to fear for your life. Shooting first and fatally is the only way to protect yourself from both bodily harm, real or perceived, and a law suit if the person you fear and shoot lives. Is my logic flawed here?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thank You, Babylonians. Thank You, Romans. Happy Tisha b’Av

Today is Tisha b’Av, the Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BCE and 70 CE. I should probably be in shul praying for the Temple to be restored speedily in our day. I’m not, of course. I can’t imagine a worse fate for Jews.

Never mind that the Temple Mount is now the site of the Muslim Dome of the Rock, and that knocking down the latter to rebuild the former would bring on World War IV (the Cold War was WWIII). Even if neither Armageddon nor the return of Jesus happened, rebuilding the Temple would force us Jews to once again slaughter animals to placate our God. I don’t look forward to the day when in order to be a good Jew I have travel to Jerusalem three times a year, buy some animals, and have a fella named Levine barbeque them for the Almighty. Sure, we all get to eat the leftovers, but still is this a religion of which I want to be a part? Spoilers: NO!

The destruction of the Temple was the best thing that ever happened to us. When it was destroyed in 586 BCE we responded by inventing Torah, ethical monotheism, and setting the foundations of a culture built on sacred story rather than sacred space. When it was destroyed in 70 CE we completed the reinvention of Judaism as a literary civilization and unleashed a flood of literary creativity that eventually gave us Mishnah, Gemara, Midrash Rabbah, Zohar, and created the unique Jewish mindset of argument, paradox, and doubt that I value so highly. If we had stayed a religious backwater of sacred barbeque we would have converted to Islam in the 7th century, if there would even have been an Islam.

So, while I bemoan the loss of life and sovereignty, I do not bemoan the loss of the Temple. On the contrary, for me Tisha b’Av is a testament to Jewish creativity and our capacity to reinvent ourselves so that we remain a living religion rather than a frozen one.