Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain


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Black and White: There are Colors in Between!

The pastor of the church I attended was fond of saying, “Most people say God said it, I believe it, and that settles it. But I’m here to tell you God said it and that settles it!”  I believed it.  Black. White.  That was based on my inerrantist, conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical Christian worldview.  Just about any subject that came up I could give you a right and a wrong answer or solution. God, Jesus, worship, creationism, abortion, marriage, divorce, women, men, homosexuality, work ethics, having children.  Black. White. BOLLOCKS!

Then I woke up one morning to the freshly brewed aroma of real life.  I discovered a brilliant array of colors in between.  There is no one-size-fits-all hat for all of mankind.  I put the hat on and it just doesn’t work. Flopped right down over my eyes.  It was way too big and it swallowed me whole.  Someone else tries it on and they can’t squeeze their big gourd into it for anything.  It sits atop their head like a beanie.

I thought I’d dabble outside of the black and white.  Try some shades of gray.  But then I picked up blue.  Not long after that I was using purple.  That just devolved into red. Now there’s no going back.  By George I LIKE color. Some things may always be black and white for me, but I want to see and enjoy all the colors of the rainbow.  So here’s to living!

My views about quite a few things have shifted considerably.  While I still think I hold myself to a pretty high moral standard, those moral standards have changed a bit. They might even be higher as I’m not nearly as judgmental.  What has been the most significant shift in your moral standards and views of other people since leaving fundamentalist Christianity?


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No Babies for Ruth Part II

Not long after that Samantha and her boyfriend announced they were expecting.  It was like a punch in the stomach to Ruth.  They weren’t even married, and didn’t even know if they’d be getting married.  Once Carmen was born Charles said he hoped Mack would just move on down the road and let him raise Carmen. What?  Come again.  He couldn’t wait until Carmen got old enough to take with us to Savannah.  Huh?  Ouch.  Ruth waited until an opportune moment to talk to Charles about it.  “These are the very reasons you told me you didn’t want a child.  You didn’t want the responsibility.” “Yes”, Charles said, “but Carmen is already here and I already like her.”  Ruth understood some of that sentiment, but it hurt just the same.   It changed nothing.  She knew she could never have children with Charles now even if he said he wanted to.  She didn’t know what she would do if he ever put his hands on their child the way he had her.  What was the point of the discussion?  Maybe just to let Charles know that he was being insensitive.

Ruth continued to pray, and to try to put it behind her.  She asked Charles to consider getting a vasectomy. “What?  You want me to do what?!?  There’s no way I’m letting anyone snip around my man parts!”  This wasn’t some ridiculous request to try to get even or out of spite.  Ruth really wanted to put it behind her.  She didn’t feel she should have to be responsible for the birth control when it wasn’t her who wanted to control it.  It wasn’t that she couldn’t be trusted to do it.  It was that taking that pill was a daily reminder of what she couldn’t have – what she’d never have.

When Ruth had finally had enough, and the fairy tale was shattered, Charles offered to have a child with her.  “I’ve been selfish, we’ll have a baby.”  Ruth couldn’t even think about that now.  The reasons she was done had little to do with having or not having a baby.  “Do you think that’s what this is about?  Do you think having a baby is going to fix this?  You’ve made it perfectly clear you don’t want a child with me.  How could I possibly do that now?”  During all of their discussions of what had gone wrong in their marriage Ruth had never once brought up having a child.  This was just one more way she knew that this was done.  Charles was only dangling a carrot in front of her.  He no more wanted a child with her now than he ever had.

You see by this point Ruth knew that praying wasn’t solving anything.  She’d relied on God and his word and his rules for living and where had it gotten her?  Nowhere.  She’d been the submissive, giving, supportive, loving wife.  She’d been obedient to God and his word.  Ruth looked for God’s hand in this anyplace she thought she might be able to find it – in the little things.  Any small kindness she was offered, any tiny good thing she was given.  But at some point she decided God wasn’t interested in parking spaces and traffic lights.  She’s seen the world around her.  Some people call it brokenness, the result of sin and fallen man.  Ruth just thinks this is the way it is and maybe it’s time we grow up and stop blaming “sin” and “fallen man” and realize that.  Maybe it’s time we stop waiting on a miracle to fix it.

She enjoyed and still does enjoy a fantastic relationship with Carmen.  Ruth is her D’Ma.  Carmen is five now.  They have sleepovers and do manis and pedis.  They dig in the dirt together.  She has a sister now, too.  Alison.  The relationship with Sam is a little strained, but at least Sam hasn’t cut her out completely.  It would be easy enough to do.  

Ruth hasn’t given up totally on the idea of having children herself.   New possibilities are open to her now.  Where she once thought it impossible, she can see it as probable.  Truly the world is her oyster.  With the thoughts of the past behind her, she can see a bright new future.  One filled with love and laughter and the family she always thought she’d have.


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No Babies for Ruth Part I

It wasn’t Ruth’s fault.  It wasn’t Charles’ fault.  It just was.  For the first twelve years of their marriage Charles and Ruth didn’t discuss having children. They didn’t really discuss before hand either.  The only time they talked about it was the time they had a scare and thought Ruth might be pregnant.  Charles was really relieved when they found out she wasn’t.  He made some remark about not wanting more children.  Ruth asked him what he meant.  He told her he’d just gotten Samantha to the stage where she wasn’t in need of constant attention and that he just wasn’t ready for more children now.  Maybe later, but definitely not now. Sam was six.

At seventeen Ruth was in no big hurry, so she thought she had plenty of time.  If Charles didn’t want children now that was okay with her.  All throughout their marriage if anyone asked when they were going to have a baby Charles would pipe up and say, “I don’t know. I hope Ruth and her new husband are happy together, though.”  That hurt Ruth’s feelings, but she just wrote it off as a joke.  Surely it was just a nervous response to a question he didn’t really have an answer to.

It wasn’t.  Samantha had graduated high school and moved into an apartment.  Ruth hadn’t really brought it up before because Samantha had step-brothers in her mother’s household.  Her mother pretty much treated her as if she were a niece who would come spend the weekends sometimes.  She always felt like she was in competition with them because her mother loved them more.  So Ruth didn’t want Sam to feel that way at two houses.  Ruth finally decided that she’d ask Charles about having a baby.  He told her he’d think about it.  Looking back he probably just hoped Ruth would forget about it and not bring it up again.  When that didn’t happen Charles said, “We just got Sam into college and out of the house. We never had a chance to just be married and not have the responsibility of a child. We just got our freedom.  Maybe in a few years, just not now.”  He was right.  They hadn’t had their freedom.  They hadn’t had a chance to enjoy being married.  So Ruth let it drop thinking in a few years she’d bring it up again.  They still had plenty of time.  

And in a few years she did.  About four years later Ruth brought it up again.  Charles, once again, told Ruth he’d think about it.  They discussed it several times.  By this point Charles was forty-two and Ruth was thirty-five. He told her all the reasons he didn’t want to have a baby.  He was too old, he was afraid he’d die before the child was grown.  He was enjoying not having that responsibility.  When they went to Savannah every summer for a School Board function what would they do?  That was no place to carry a child.  When Ruth became sad over it Charles got angry.  Ruth tried to hide her sadness, but she became quite depressed over it for a time.  She’d been crying about it on the way home from work one day and when he asked what she’d been crying about she just said, “nothing, it’s no big deal.”  He pressed her for an answer so she told him how sad she was.  He came unglued about it.  He threw things, threatened her, slammed hands down on the table.  He said, “I’ll leave it up to you.  You know how I feel about it, but if it’s what you really want then go ahead.”  He walked out the door and didn’t come back for hours.

Ruth wondered what she’d been thinking. As temperamental and abusive as Charles had been, why would she even consider having a baby?  That’s when she gave up the hope of it.  She couldn’t bare the thought of bringing a child into that situation, no matter how badly she’d love to have one.  She couldn’t stand the thought of the resentment she knew Charles would have toward her and their child.  She hadn’t married Charles to give her children, she’d married him because she loved him, thinking that a child was just a natural outflow of love.  Ruth obviously thought wrong.  Charles was entitled to the way he felt about it.  Ruth was wrong to push.  So she dropped it, even though it did make her sad.  Ruth knew she could never force that kind of responsibility on Charles.  It wouldn’t be fair.

Ruth prayed and prayed over the years about this.  She felt like Hannah, even opened her Bible to that scripture and prayed over the scripture.  She’d begged God to take away her desire for a child and she’d prayed for God to give Charles the desire to have a child.  Neither happened.  Ruth decided this must just be God’s plan.  He must be using this in her life for some greater good.  She knew that she’d never have it, so if God wasn’t taking away that desire there must be a reason – something she was supposed to be learning.


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Resurrection Sunday

Once again I went to my home church for Sunday worship.  Somehow I let just enough time pass that I forget exactly how uncomfortable I was the last time I was there and I keep going back.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been doing it pretty much every Sunday for twenty years or if it’s because I have such uncertainty, but I begin to feel guilty for not going.  My guilt makes me feel uncomfortable enough to forget about the discomfort of actually going until I’m there.

Sunday School was mostly as expected.  The lesson was on the empty tomb and that we have loads of “proof” that Jesus is indeed alive.  Of course all of this proof is from the Bible itself.  Discussion turned to what we do to share our gospel and whether we’re doing it often enough.  What do we tell people who doubt the gospel accounts of virgin births and resurrections?  Why, we tell them they have to believe in what they’re reading, of course!  They have to have faith in the Bible.

As I sat there, mostly quiet, I thought about how much I’ve learned about the questions of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.  I realized just how much our culture really does play into what we believe.  If you dare to question you’re just being ridiculous.  How can you not believe the Bible is God’s Holy Word????  I also realized I’m becoming comfortable enough with my questions that I don’t need to challenge those in my class and stir them up.  I’m comfortable enough with my doubt that I didn’t feel uncomfortable hearing them talk about their certainty.  I was intrigued by how we all just assume that everyone should just follow suit, regardless of their background or culture.  I saw the disbelief on the faces of those in the class who have never really researched anything else that anyone could possibly doubt the inspiration of the Bible.

The music in the worship service was excellent as always.  It’s not a huge church, but the minister of music is very talented and has put together a small orchestra.  I love music and no matter how far away from my original faith I might travel these are the songs I grew up on.  These are the songs of my youth and they will probably always resonate with me in some way so I sing along.  I probably pay more attention to the lyrics now than I ever did pre-doubt.  “Because He Lives”, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Christ is Risen, Hallelujah” rang out through the church.  The choir belted out “He’s Alive, He’s Alive, He’s Alive, Hallelujah!”. I’m challenged as I sing.  Do I really believe this any longer?  I don’t know.

The pastor takes the podium.  Instead of preaching the typical Easter sermon about the empty tomb, we’re instructed to turn to John 3:16.  We stand for the reading of God’s word.  Pastor Mike launches into the “greatest verse in the Bible”.  There are twelve words before Son in this verse and twelve words after (reading from the KJV).  Everything revolves around the Son.  It so fantastic because God so loved the world that he sent his son to be the substitute for our sins.  The gift is unconditional.  All we have to do is accept it, receive it.  If he buys his child a gift but his child puts his hands behind his back and refuses to take it there’s nothing he can do about it.  It’s a free gift, no strings attached.  This is unconditional love.

Those who don’t accept the gift will perish. The gift is unconditional, the guarantee is not. Yes, that’s right.  God’s love is unconditional, his favor isn’t.  The guarantee to enjoy his favor is conditional on belief in Jesus.  It has nothing to do with being a good person.  This gift is extended to the murderer and the moral alike.  Those who do not accept this wonderful gift will die and perish eternally in hell.  It’s up to them.   Don’t walk out of this place today without making a decision.  God’s guarantee of an eternity with him depends on it.

Wow.  Just wow.  All that talk of hell would have scared the living daylights out of me two months ago.  I looked around and saw the people nodding their heads.  All I could think was, this isn’t right.  I felt sad – sad at the bondage this is for so many.  Listening to all of this from a critical viewpoint made me wonder how it is that I ever believed that a mere belief in “just the right thing” would get me a pass into heaven.

I realized as I sat there that I knew nothing of existence before I was born.  I think that is the state I will return to when I die.  All of this belief in an afterlife is surely just because it is so difficult for man to imagine a state in which they simply cease to exist.    


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Was Jesus the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53?

The “Conversations With an Atheist Jew” series has brought up some interesting discussions and questions. One question that wasn’t fully answered was the question of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. I asked Harvey about this and he readily admitted that Jesus doesn’t fulfill the passage but doesn’t elaborate on why that is so. Remembering that Harvey gave the disclaimer that he is not a Rabbi and hasn’t studied Torah nor practiced Judaism in some time I’ve done a bit of research and found an excellent Jewish website, aish.com. Hopefully Harvey will contribute to the discussion in the comments.

I asked Harvey:

Is there a basis for a suffering servant Messiah in traditional Judaism? What is the traditional Jewish Interpretation of Isaiah 53?

Harvey replied:

Jewish scholars do not put the same interpretation or importance on Isaiah that Christian apologists seem to do. Since they do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth meets most of the criteria of Messiahship, I am not aware (remember, I am by no means either a Rabbi, nor am I currently studying Tankah) that Jewish scholars spend much time on this particular statement in Isaiah.

From aish.com  I found the following as a partial explanation as to why Jesus isn’t the suffering servant:

MISTRANSLATED VERSES “REFERRING” TO JESUS
Biblical verses can only be understood by studying the original Hebrew text — which reveals many discrepancies in the Christian translation.

A. VIRGIN BIRTH
The Christian idea of a virgin birth is derived from the verse in Isaiah 7:14 describing an “alma” as giving birth. The word “alma” has always meant a young woman, but Christian theologians came centuries later and translated it as “virgin.” This accords Jesus’ birth with the first century pagan idea of mortals being impregnated by gods.

B. CRUCIFIXION
The verse in Psalms 22:17 reads: “Like a lion, they are at my hands and feet.” The Hebrew word ki-ari (like a lion) is grammatically similar to the word “gouged.” Thus Christianity reads the verse as a reference to crucifixion: “They pierced my hands and feet.”

C. SUFFERING SERVANT
Christianity claims that Isaiah chapter 53 refers to Jesus, as the “suffering servant.”
In actuality, Isaiah 53 directly follows the theme of chapter 52, describing the exile and redemption of the Jewish people. The prophecies are written in the singular form because the Jews (“Israel”) are regarded as one unit. The Torah is filled with examples of the Jewish nation referred to with a singular pronoun.
Ironically, Isaiah’s prophecies of persecution refer in part to the 11th century when Jews were tortured and killed by Crusaders who acted in the name of Jesus.

From where did these mistranslations stem? St. Gregory, 4th century Bishop of Nanianzus, wrote: “A little jargon is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they admire.”

You can read the article in it’s entirety here.  I intend to do a bit more research on that last statement attributed to St. Gregory.  If any of you have information or knowledge of this quote and it’s context please feel free to elaborate in the comments.  I have found similar quotes by various saints, not the least of which is St. Paul, himself.  The thought that it is alright to embellish the truth, or outright lie to progress the “gospel” isn’t a new thought.  It’s new to me because in the evangelical church it is never in question.  However if the gospel is such good news and the Holy Spirit does his work why would anyone need to do anything other than be completely honest and forthright?  Why does the “good news” need help?


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Conversations with an Atheist Jew (Part II)

*This is part II of an undetermined number in this series.

I’ve asked Harvey to assist me in creating a few posts. He is a Jew by birth and is familiar with Jewish tradition.  Having asked him to guest post he asked that I add a disclaimer:

Please note that although I was and remain a Jew, I have been a total non-believer in the Abrahamic or any other God since my early twenties. I am a Jew only by accident of birth and ethnic tradition. I believe that I understand traditional Jewish attitudes towards their God and ethical issues, but only in the academic sense. I can still read Biblical Hebrew and some Aramaic, but I am by no means a Rabbi. I have read the new testament perhaps 4 or 5 times over the years (since my wife of 30 years is Lutheran) and the Koran twice (in English, of course).

I’ve really become quite interested in the traditional Jewish perspective on God and the differences between Judaism and Christianity.  Even if I come out of this agnostic and/or atheist I think this interest will continue.  Christianity is supposed to be an outflow and moreover a fulfillment of traditional Judaism.  The more I dig and the more I learn the more I’ve come to recognize that Christianity, at least modern Christianity, is so far from that idea that it’s hardly recognizable as even relating to Judaism.  In that vein I asked Harvey more questions.  

Me:  What is the Orthodox Jewish idea of Messiah?  Why doesn’t Jesus fit this idea?

Harvey:

Jesus fails to meet the Biblical requirements generally accepted by traditional Jews as the promised Messiah.
1) The Messiah predicted/promised in the Torah will be an Earthly King or leader, who will gather together all of the forces of good to fight a final battle with the forces of evil at Meggido (“Armegeddon”). Once the forces of good have triumphed, God will establish his kingdom on the Earth. Jesus never did any of these promised things.
2) The promised Messiah will be descended from the “House of David”. This implies direct descent from King David. Joseph, the husband of Mary was so descended, but, if we are to accept the accounts in The New Testament, Joseph WAS NOT Jesus’ father. Moreover, in Biblical times lineal descent for the purposes of inheritance was calculated through the Mother’s lineage, not the Father’s. We have no record to suggest that Mary was of the House of David.
3) No mention of execution, resurrection, or “return” appears in the Torah accounts that Christians choose to accept as evidence for the Messiahship  of Jesus.
In short, orthodox Judaism simply does not see the Jesus of Christianity as meeting the criteria set down.



Me:  Is there a basis for a suffering servant Messiah in traditional Judaism?  What is the traditional Jewish Interpretation of Isaiah 53?



Harvey:  

Jewish scholars do not put the same interpretation or importance on Isaiah that Christian apologists seem to do. Since they do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth meets most of the criteria of Messiahship, I am not aware (remember, I am by no means either a Rabbi, nor am I currently studying Tanakh) that Jewish scholars spend much time on this particular statement in Isaiah.



Me: What is the traditional Jewish view of the afterlife?  Heaven and hell?


Harvey:

The definition of Heaven most widely accepted by Orthodox/traditional Jews is “being in the presence of God” after death. In fact, the “reward” for having lived a righteous  life (obeying God’s commandments) is simply having lived such a life. Heaven is not a place or locale. In fact, the concept of Heavenly “reward” is largely a Christian concept, which makes sense if one believes that the acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice for forgiveness of sins is the main requirement for entry into Heaven, rather than “good works”,  The Jewish concept of Hell, on the other hand, is simply “separation from the Lord”.  Jewish tradition places much greater emphasis upon one’s relationships with one’s fellow men in this life than upon what may or may not come in the hereafter. I have always felt that it is worthy of note that the majority of the Ten Commandments deal with human relationships, rather than with our relationship with God.



I’m finding Harvey’s answers to my questions particularly interesting. The Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah should give pause to Christians.  Yet because of a few scriptures in the New Testament this rejection has been accepted by Christians as necessary to the gentiles being grafted into God’s family.  I still ponder why this would be so.  The traditional Jewish understanding of the afterlife speaks neither to exclusivism, inclusivism, or universalism.  It makes much more sense to me that the emphasis for any system of theology would be placed on treatment of fellow man and creation than on some ridiculous hand washing, animal sacrificing, human sacrificing appeasement of a deity.   What say ye?