Myth, Miracles and A Famous Cat

Here’s a story we’ve seen before: a charismatic preacher speaks of G-d, faith, hope and truth, and a member of the audience is healed.

And here’s a slightly different story, one I’ve already examined in an earlier post:

Martin Buber has told of a rabbi whose grandfather was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hassidism. Once upon a time, when the rabbi was asked to tell a story, he said: A story must be told in such a way that it constitutes help in itself. My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher. And he related how the holy Baal Shem used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that hour on he was cured of his lameness. That’s the way to tell a story.

I received some terrific comments to my last post, all ably describing the above story. This is a story about how stories shape us. This is a story about how to tell a story. This is a story about how to become engaged in telling a story.

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A Story About Stories

imagesHere’s a story I’d like to share and discuss with you all, where one of the central characters is the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism. Hassidism is a Jewish movement founded in the eighteenth century that can be described (in an over-simplistic way) as spiritual, mystical and populist. The Baal Shem Tov had a legendary reputation as a miracle worker.

I found this story in a book written by Protestant scholar Franklin Littell.

Martin Buber has told of a rabbi whose grandfather was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hassidism. Once upon a time, when the rabbi was asked to tell a story, he said: A story must be told in such a way that it constitutes help in itself. My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher. And he related how the holy Baal Shem used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that hour on he was cured of his lameness. That’s the way to tell a story.

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Giving Peace A Chance

downloadI have to admit it: I’m very, very excited about this.

Today, several key Christian leaders, including Tony Campolo, Joel Hunter, David Neff and Jim Wallis issued the following statement:

“As followers of Jesus, we the undersigned are committed to peacemaking—to which we are called by Christ.”

Nothing controversial there. It’s what follows that makes me feel very happy. The statement is about peacemaking in Israel. The statement:

  • Expresses support for the 2015 framework signed by Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany), whereby Iran agreed to reduce its capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons in exchange for an elimination of economic sanctions against Iran.
  • Calls on Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and to end its “regular declarations” to destroy the State of Israel.
  • Calls on Israel to freeze the construction of settlements in the West Bank and to ease its embargo of Gaza.

Why does this letter make me happy? Well, for once, I’m not going to spell out everything I think and have ever thought on this subject, in a tl;dr format. I want to see instead if I can get a discussion going in the comments section. So, briefly

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Not My AIPAC

downloadIn my last post, I wrote about the AIPAC convention and the protests planned against the speech to be given there by Presidential candidate Donald Trump. That speech took place last week. As I hoped, AIPAC provided a resounding Jewish response to Trump. Unfortunately, the response was not the one I’d hoped for.

Hundreds of AIPAC attendees boycotted Trump’s speech, and walked out of the speech in protest. But thousands remained.

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Who Is AIPAC, And Why Are They Saying Terrible Things About Donald Trump

67796_10207050583237586_7604274147698476333_nToday, the Jewish world may make some headline news.

Donald Trump is scheduled to speak today at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The AIPAC Conference typically draws an “A” list of big name politicos, and during Presidential election years, the list of speakers at this conference includes most of the major Presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton is on this year’s list, along with Joe Biden, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Paul Ryan and others.

The AIPAC Policy Conference is a major event in Washington—Tablet Magazine’s Stephanie Butnick describes it as “the Jewish equivalent to the Oscars or the Grammys.” According to AIPAC’s web site, the conference will be attended by “more than 15,000 pro-Israel Americans,” including 2/3 of Congress. So, Trump is guaranteed a large crowd for his speech … or maybe not. Some of the Jews attending this meeting are planning to protest. Some may skip Trump’s speech, and other plan to walk out of the speech. Evidently, some plan to meet outside of the hall where Trump is speaking and hold some kind of study session, reading and considering passages of the Bible that contradict Trump’s message.

I’ve checked with some of the Rabbis I know, to encourage this protest. One wrote me back. You don’t expect that I’ll actually be there. I replied: I don’t think you’d be caught dead within a half mile of an AIPAC event. Therein lies a story.

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Standing Together

CdEJtBKUEAAQo8kTwo events took place yesterday that intersected in my imagination.

Yesterday a Palestinian member of the terrorist group Hamas went on a stabbing rampage on a popular seaside boulevard in Jaffa, an ancient port city just south of Tel Aviv, Israel. He killed an American student and injured twelve others, including two Arabs. The attack was one in a series of similar attacks that have occurred in Israel over the last five months, resulting in the murder of 30 Israelis, a Palestinian and a second American student. According to the New York Times, about 180 Palestinians have also been killed during this same period, “most while attempting attacks, or suspected of attempting attacks.”

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“Reconciliation”

attachment-1It is a grim roll call. Peter Enns at Westminster Seminary. Anthony Le Donne at Lincoln Christian University. J.R. Daniel Kirk at Fuller Seminary. Thomas Jay Oord at Northwest Nazarene University. Douglas Green at Westminster. Michael Pahl at Cedarville University. Chris Rollston at Emmanuel Christian Seminary. Michael Licona at Southern Evangelical Seminary. Bruce Waltke at Reformed Theological Seminary. Each of these people were professors at the above-mentioned institutions. Some had tenure. All were sent packing for various “heresies” against imagined Christian evangelical orthodoxies. In no case was it exactly clear what orthodoxy was at stake or what the professor did to cause offense. I mean, it’s not like any of these men apostatized! In the case of Dr. Enns, he wrote a book on how to interpret the Bible that seemed (to some) to question Biblical inerrancy and a literal approach to the interpretation of the Bible. Dr. Oord’s offense may be connected to his view that G-d’s love is not coercive … or it may also relate to the theory of evolution. Dr. Kirk’s separation from Fuller appears to be connected to his views on same-sex marriage.

These terminations follow a pattern. They are announced as a resolution achieved by “mutual consent” of school and professor. The school says nice things about the terminated professor. The professor says something conciliatory in return. The termination is proclaimed to be in everyone’s best interests. The details of the termination are never discussed—they are confidential. The professor leaves, quietly. A small group writes protests (like I’m doing here). Those that remain as professors at these schools are left to wonder what they need to do, and avoid doing, to keep their teaching positions.

We now have another name to add to the above list: Larycia Hawkins.

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Comparing Trump

gettyimages-484797712-trump-alabama-rallyI learned the other day about something called Godwin’s Law: if an online discussion goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or the Nazis. Without knowing that this rule is a “law,” I’ve consistently tried all my life not to compare anything to Hitler. But I guess that the pull of Godwin’s Law is too strong. Here goes:

Last Saturday, Donald Trump told a crowd of students at Dordt College in Sioux City, Iowa (yet another Christian college where I see strange things going on) that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue [in New York City] and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s like, incredible.” As he spoke, he put his fingers into the shape of a gun and acted out pulling the trigger. How did the crowd react? Some Dordt students protested. But others laughed, and applauded. Someone in the audience shouted out love for Trump, and Trump responded, “We love you too, man.”

Watch here:

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No God But God*

downloadIs it just me, or does it seem like the interreligious space has gone nuts recently? The latest piece of craziness comes from Wheaton College in Illinois, perhaps the most prestigious evangelical college in the United States (not to be confused with Wheaton College in Massachusetts, a secular liberal arts institution). A tenured professor at Wheaton, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, donned a hijab during the Christmas Advent season to proclaim her solidarity with her Muslim neighbors. She expressed this solidarity on Facebook, writing in part:

I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

The response from Wheaton has been swift, if opaque. The school initially placed Dr. Hawkins on paid administrative leave “in order to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam.” Wheaton has since issued a Notice of Recommendation to fire Dr. Hawkins, and her case will ultimately be decided by the school’s Board of Trustees.

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Guns

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It’s been a long time since I’ve written here. I’ve been troubled by many things I’d like to talk about, but the words haven’t come. Where should I start? ISIS? Trump? Guns?

I think I’ll begin with guns. I’d like to talk about the speech Jerry Falwell Jr. gave on December 4 to his students at Liberty University. But I’ll start with a different story.

Last year, I invited my friend and Christian dialogue partner Anthony Le Donne to visit my synagogue in Los Angeles for Shabbat. I hoped he’d be impressed by our Buddhist-inspired meditation service, or our Torah teaching, or the conversation with my Rabbi during lunch. I think Anthony enjoyed it all. But when it was over, and we were alone to talk, the first thing Anthony mentioned was the security guard posted in front of the synagogue. I remember his asking me if the guard carried a gun. I didn’t know the answer, and I still don’t.

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