We all need help. We need strength, courage to do the things that need to be done on a daily basis. There are many sources for that strength and courage. I get mine from my relationship with God. In Joshua 1:9 it is written,
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Knowing that God is with us wherever we go is an amazing source of strength. Many times throughout my military career I was tasked to perform something that was very dangerous, but I could do it without fear knowing that God would be with me.
During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I was the executive officer of a cavalry regiment. We were stationed in Doha, Kuwait, and were the last American presence in Kuwait. Everyone else had returned home, and we were still there. Concerned that Saddam might come back into Kuwait, we kept our ammo close by. One day I received a call that the motor pool was on fire, and hopped in my HMMWV with my driver to investigate. Soon I realized that a vehicle had caught fire, and was about to explode. I ordered the evacuation of the motor pool, which was completed about the time the vehicle exploded, and detonated thousands of pounds of ammunition along with it. For six hours I remained in that motor pool with my driver, helping people who had remained in there. Unexploded ordinance was all around. I was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for my actions that day, the nation’s highest award for heroism outside of combat. People ask me how was I able to perform that task. It was easy: I knew God was with me.
In Iraq on one of my tours, I was tasked to negotiate with the insurgency. It was important that we talked with them to understand their issues. Routinely I would meet in a room with numerous armed insurgents. They hated all Americans, and they viewed us as occupiers of their country. The tension in the room was high. At any moment one of the insurgents could have easily taken out an American general. Again, folks asked whether or not I was afraid. The answer is no. God was with me.
I am not the only military leader who turned to our God for strength and courage. During the Civil War, the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson said,
My religious beliefs teach me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time of my death. I do not concern myself with that, but to always be ready whenever it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and all men would be equally brave.
So, when times look bleak, and you find yourself afraid, go to God for strength and courage. God will be with you. Seek out those difficult tasks that everyone else seems afraid of performing. As it is said in Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said Here am I. Send me!”
And remember, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
image illustrations via shutterstock / Blaj Gabriel
Anno Domini 2014 was a year filled with big stories for the Catholic Church, but for the rank and file it was a year of uncertainty, too, as they wondered what was going on with their new pope, elected only the year before after Benedict XVI decided to retire.
A member of the order of the Society of Jesus, better known as Jesuits, before being elected pope on March 13, 2013, Francis had likely imbibed that order’s more liberal brand of Catholicism before rising to become the archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. As archbishop and later as a cardinal, Benedict practiced a simple, unostentatious lifestyle with particular attention to the poor. All well and good, but after his elevation to the papacy a disturbing trend became apparent beneath other more commonsense actions he has taken over his first full year as head of the Church. This pattern has revealed a streak of political correctness beneath the concerns that are proper for a pontiff.
Political correctness is one of the most sinister threats ever to challenge Western civilization, worming its way into the vitals of every major institution and rotting them from the inside out. Until recently, the Catholic Church had managed to fend off its influence under Popes John Paul II and Benedict, but a well-meaning Francis could end up undoing some of that work. Comments on social justice, illegal immigration, and income inequality, for instance, threaten to cross over from religious concerns to the political.
On more hot button topics, Francis signaled a possible thaw on cultural issues early in his papacy when he called for a de-emphasis on such issues as homosexuality and abortion. Later, he sparked a love affair with the media when, registering an ambivalent attitude toward homosexuality, he said “Who am I to judge?”
Such comments sent handlers into high gear, trying to do damage control by putting the pope’s words in context, explaining how they weren’t in contradiction to traditional Church teaching. The same thing happened when Francis said complimentary things about the theory of evolution. The media acted as if it was a seismic departure from Church teaching when actually it wasn’t.
The combination of comments by Francis and misleading reportage in the media has led to some confusion among the faithful on exactly where the Church stands on issues long since thought settled. More seriously, the pope’s comments may also have given sinners a rationalization not to repent in the belief that they may not be sinning after all.
In addition to those issues troubling loyal Catholics on a socio-cultural level, the worldwide Church as an institution has not lacked for other important events in 2014 that will continue to shape it into the future, from the aftermath of sexual scandals to softening relations with China to reforms at the Vatican.
10) In a constitutional victory for religious-based colleges, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently abandoned its practice of measuring how religious a college appears to be before exempting it from federal oversight.
The belated move finally brings the board within virtual compliance with a 1979 Supreme Court decision that found the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) did not give the board authority to regulate employee behavior in Catholic education. Although the board’s new position limiting its involvement to considering whether individual employees perform religious functions still remained, it comes well within the purview of some future federal court ruling forbidding even that. Supporters believe that the board’s retreat will encourage Catholic colleges to include a Catholic perspective in every classroom so as to exempt the institution from government scrutiny.
Joseph Bottum is my favorite among Christian writers; I read him religiously, as it were, for a decade before we met, and before he asked me to join the masthead of the monthly magazine First Things in 2009. The fact that he is a close friend, therefore, has nothing to do with my admiration for his work; I have several close friends who write badly, and admire any number of writers whom I abhor as human beings. His Christmas meditation “Angels I Have Heard on High” was a holiday delicacy to be savored. Jody has heard angel voices singing, “high in the wind, across a western meadow frozen stiff and covered with the fallen snow.” I wish him many more such blessed encounters.
Jody is now writing Christmas carols, and we’ve been corresponding about the form, from an aesthetic vantage point, to be sure. The great poet of Spain’s Golden Age, Lope de Vega, wrote a marvelous song in which the Virgin Mary responds to the glory of angels ruffling the palm trees by asking them to hold onto the branches and quiet down; her child, she explains, is already exhausted by the world’s suffering and needs to rest. The juxtaposition of maternal ordinariness and supernatural splendor is a successful poetic conceit. Christian poets work wonders with angelic encounters, and Lope’s famous Christmas meditation is sublime. One really must read it in the original: with its Romance meter (comparable to our ballad meter) and unrhymed alliteration, the poem bestrides the divide between sublime and secular in technique as well as content.
By pure coincidence, the conversation around the Shabbat table last week at Hong Kong’s modest Israeli synagogue, Shuva Israel, centered on angels as well. Jews sing “Peace onto you, ministering angels” before Friday night dinner, on the basis of an ancient homilectic that two angels accompany a Jew home from synagogue on the eve of Shabbat:
Peace upon you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High,
of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Come in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Bless me with peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,
of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
May your departure be in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Note that the appearance of the angels is a scheduled weekly occurrence, to be welcomed, but nothing to get excited about. The odd thing, though, is that the angels are asked to leave. One hears many explanations for this, but I like best the one proposed by the Chafetz Chaim, the leader of observant Jewry in Eastern Europe during the interwar years, and recounted last Friday by a young Israeli rabbi. When the high priest entered the Temple’s Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he went in alone–not even an angel dared accompany him into this most holy place. The recreation of the Temple in the Shabbat table of a Jewish home is so holy that even the holy angels cannot abide there; after they have done their job of accompanying us home from synagogue they are politely asked to go away.
The Holy of Holies in Judaism is found in the most ordinary things of life once they have been dedicated to the Holy One, blessed be he. The Shekhinah (the Indwelling of God) resides on the Shabbat table, and in marital relations between husband and wife. Such things surpass the holiness even of angels.
The holiness of the sanctified ordinary, to be sure, doesn’t always make for compelling poetry; as a latecomer to Jewish observance I tend to sniff at the poetic merits of the classic songs sung around the Shabbat table, although some of them, drawn from the Psalms, are hauntingly beautiful.
Christianity is an absurd death cult. That was the expressed belief of the late Christopher Hitchens, one among the so-called “new atheists” who engaged in an aggressive sort of anti-evangelism. Hitchens once sketched his view of the incarnation thus:
In order to be Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years our species suffered and died… [enduring] famine, struggle, viciousness, war, suffering, misery, all of that for 98,000 years – heaven watches it with complete indifference – and then 2,000 years ago [God] thinks that’s enough of that, it’s time to intervene. The best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate part of the Middle East…
Hitchens’ presentation of Christianity highlights one of the greatest challenges to Christian apologetics. Increasingly, a dichotomy has been offered between reason and faith. Ayn Rand defined the two concepts as opposites, and the co-relation of religion and atrocity has been increasingly cited as evidence that faith literally kills.
This Christmas Day, I offer a preview of an ongoing project to begin here at PJ Lifestyle in the new year. Working through books on the topics of reason, individual rights, and the Christian worldview, we will explore how we might reconcile our human perception with divine revelation.
Baden-Baden has been a spa town since Roman times, drawing tourists for its therapeutic waters, and more recently for a festival hall that features prominent classical artists. It also has a Faberge museum, which seems appropriate at this time of year: Christmas in Germany is like a brightly decorated eggshell with no egg inside. The forms of the holiday are merrily observed, but not the faith. To declare one’s belief in a personal God counts for proof of mental defect here as well as in most parts of Europe, especially among educated people. Nonetheless there is more faith left in Germany’s Protestant establishment than among America’s mainline Protestant churches, and it’s something for a visiting Jew to rejoice about here at Christmas time.
The Presbyterian Church USA, the flagship church of America’s fading Protestant mainline, voted to boycott the State of Israel earlier this year, and nearly voted to prohibit the use of the word “Israel” in its prayers. The new Marcionism of the mainline churches justifies its aid and comfort to Israel’s enemies by rejecting a link between the living Jewish people and the God of Abraham. By contrast, Pope John Paul II of blessed memory and Benedict XVI both emphasized that God’s covenant with the Jewish people never was revoked.
I have no interest in seeing Ridley Scott’s epic IMAX 3-D meisterwerk Exodus: Gods and Kings. Why would I want to spend money on a “gloriously junky” movie that turns my history into a collection of high-tech special effects laced together by a biased, biblically-inaccurate script? Yet, for however lousy the movie itself might be, it has inspired some interesting commentary on Jewish peoplehood from Emma Green over at the Atlantic. For Green, the film inspired a polemic that highlights the seemingly eternal struggle Jews have with the idea of being called out, that is to say “chosen” by God.
I’ve always found this to be rather asinine as far as ideological burdens go. Most people struggle to find their purpose in life. Jews are born into it. We are here to bring God’s teachings into the world in order to make this earth a better place. This chosen status, this calling doesn’t make us any better than anyone else. It simply gives us a job to do, a role that manifests itself through every aspect of existence, every academic discipline, every profession we’ve ever encountered. Whether we’re religious or not, or politically Left or Right, we (for the most part) are bent on doing our part to make the world a better place. Which is probably why those who hate us the most love to rub our chosenness in our face, intimidating the Emma Greens among us into second guessing our God-given responsibility.
I loved doing this interview with Rabbi Ari Abramowitz at the Voice of Israel. Rabbi-like, he skipped past the shallow stuff and asked the big questions: about my feelings toward Israel, my conversion from Judaism to Christianity and about my conversion from leftism to liberalism, also known as conservatism. If you’re interested in real talk about real stuff, too rare in American media, it’s worth listening to. You can hear it here.
Since starting my master’s at Oxford this fall, I’ve been looking for a church. A new life in a new country meant I needed a Christian community to remind me who I am. I found one just in time for Christmas. Here’s what I learned on the way.
There are a lot of churches in Oxford. Honestly, you can’t walk down the block without tripping over a church. They tend to be Anglican. But after visiting various services, I started noticing two general kinds of atmosphere — two distinct styles of worship. Now, I’m a layman to my core. I have no business evaluating doctrines or denominations. This is just what I saw.
“Second, more than any other commandment, the Sabbath Day reminds people that they are meant to be free. As the second version of the Commandment — the one summarized by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy — states, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” In other words, remember that slaves cannot have a Sabbath. In light of this, I might add that in the Biblical view, unless necessary for survival, people who choose to work seven days a week are essentially slaves — slaves to work or perhaps to money, but slaves nonetheless. The millionaire who works seven days a week is simply a rich slave.” — Dennis Prager, from his fantastic 10 Commandments video series.
So given the success of last week’s discussion about the myriad of ways to interpret the meaning of Genesis 9, the story of Noah cursing Ham’s son Canaan, I’ve decided to start a regular weekly series on Sunday presenting and discussing a variety of Bible-based mysteries.
This week’s subject for debate and inter-faith dialogue: what is the best way to observe the fourth commandment, to set aside one day a week that is holy? Does one particular group or theological denomination have better ideas and interpretations on this subject than others?
While for many of these Bible mystery questions I’ll just pose the question or lean in one direction or another, on this subject I do have a position that I’ve come to embrace more over the past few years that I’ll offer forward today: the seemingly radical approach that Orthodox Jews take to the Sabbath — a whole day of the week, sundown to sundown, of not even driving a car or using electricity and devoted solely to family and one’s spiritual development as a community — is the ideal that everyone should pursue for a whole host of reasons.
I don’t think the American Protestant Christian standard of just going for an hour long church service each week and then treating Sunday like any other day really cuts it.
Next: considering some insights from a book that I’ve been reading, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath, and posing some inter-faith questions based on it.
It’s fairly obvious that we Jews just don’t get Christmas. Don’t believe me? Check out BuzzFeed’s attempt to get Jews to decorate Christmas trees. (“Who’s Noel?” “Is that like, ‘grassy knoll’?”) Yet, every year we Jewish Americans wrestle as a people over whether or not to incorporate Christmas traditions into our own Hanukkah celebrations. It’s tacky. It’s trite. And it’s really, really lame. Here are five Hanukkah/Christmas hybrids that all Jews need to avoid this holiday season.
Yesterday a friend and I were talking about some of the weird, perplexing things in the Bible, swapping quotes and links to try to make sense of a strange passage. I decided I’d throw it out there today and see what others thought.
Genesis 9:18-27 describes how after Noah lands the ark and makes a covenant with God he plants an orchard, invents wine, and gets drunk. Then his son Ham “saw the nakedness of his father” and told his brothers, who then covered their eyes so they didn’t see him, but went in and covered him. Afterwards Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan. What actually happened here? Why is this so important? Why does Canaan get cursed for something his father did? And why is it so bad to just see your Dad naked and laugh about it?
What is actually going on here?
There seem to be four popular interpretations:
1. The first is just a straight literalist interpretation — the crime really was just seeing his father in an uncompromising position and then laughing about it to his brothers.
The next three interpretations are a little more plausible and have been considered over the centuries:
2. Ham castrated his father.
3. Ham sexually molested or raped his father, shaming and dishonoring them both.
4. It was actually Ham’s son Canaan that did the crime.
These ideas see the curse being inflicted on Canaan for a few different reasons. First, if Noah was castrated then he couldn’t have more sons. Second, whatever the sexually dominating act was, it’s seen as a symbolic attempt to usurp Noah’s authority in the tribe.
The fifth idea, which we’ll explore on the next page, is much more of a leap from the literal but the one that ultimately makes the most sense when read against other usages of the language in the Torah and in the bigger context of the differing marital practices of Pagan tribes…
Well, it’s that time of the year: days getting shorter, nights getting colder, choirs singing and priests commemorating the virgin birth. I know what you’re thinking: it must be time for the rural Dionysia! Mmmm, chanting in ritualistic praise of the wine-god just gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling — like eggnog by the fire.
Okay for real though, obviously Christmas is the best holiday in the history of ever. But Christmas as it’s celebrated these days is a mash-up, a “greatest hits” of December festival practices from the ancient and modern world. A lot of our traditions go all the way back to ancient Greece. So to get in the spirit, here are five of my favorite yuletide rituals, along with their ancient Greek roots. They’ve been mathematically ranked and arranged in ascending order depending on how merry and/or bright they are. Happy ancient Greek Christmas, everyone! (And more importantly, happy real Christmas, too.)
I decided to move to Israel (make aliyah) when I was 28, and came to live here with my family when I was 30. At the age of 28, I knew zero Hebrew; by the time we made aliyah I had learned just a little from a cassette-tape course. (Yes, there were things called cassette tapes back then.)
Our first residence in Israel was an absorption center in the town of Hadera on the coastal plain. There we had to take an intensive Hebrew course—meaning I immediately started learning this difficult language more seriously. And right away, even with only a few words and phrases at my disposal, I started to feel connected to my new environment in ways I couldn’t have if English had still been the only language residing in my brain.
How much easier can I make this for you people???
See the complete collection of 10 Commandment videos here.
See the tenth commandment explained here.
Editor’s Note: See the first four parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” “Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power,” and “Should You Trust Your Gut or God?“ Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here. Warning: some spoilers about season 3 discussed in this installment.
Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.
Our culture has a seemingly natural distrust of people in power, but that wasn’t always the case. Before November 1963 we put great faith in our political and spiritual leaders. Those pre-’63 figureheads like JFK, Ike and FDR, Fulton Sheen and Billy Graham are still heralded as role models of moral society. Today’s faith is different. We look for hypocrisy and mock it intensely. All spiritual leaders are televangelists skilled in chicanery. Our politicians are now supposed to be our messiahs, and when they fail we as a nation fall into despair and chaos. When did we forget God, and why does it matter that we’ve left Him out of the equation?
See the seventh commandment here.
Click here for Prager’s explanation of the sixth commandment.
Click here to see the explanation of the fifth commandment
Click here for the next in the series, the fourth commandment.
Earlier this year on HBO’s Real Time, host Bill Maher declared that Islam is “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book.”
Maher was likely referring to Islam’s “blasphemy” laws, which ban on pain of death any “insult” — as found in a statement, a picture, a book — to Islam and especially to its prophet Muhammad.
While Maher has been criticized for his “Islamophobic” assertion, he and others may be surprised to learn that the similarities between Islam and an organized crime syndicate such as the mafia far exceed punishing those who say, draw, or write “the wrong thing.” In what follows, we will examine a number of these similarities.
We will begin by looking at the relationship between Allah, his messenger Muhammad, and the Muslims, and note several parallels with the relationship between the godfather, his underboss, and the mafia.
Next, we will examine the clannish nature of the mafia and compare it to Islam’s tribalism, especially in the context of the Islamic doctrine of “Loyalty and Enmity.” For example, in both Islam and the mafia, members who wish to break away, to “apostatize,” are killed.
We will consider how the mafia and Islam have both historically profited from the “protection” racket: Islam has demanded jizya from non-Muslims under its authority/territory, and the mafia has demanded pizzo from people that fall under its jurisdiction.
Finally, we will consider what accounts for these many similarities between Islam and the mafia, including from a historical perspective.
The “Christmas single” phenomenon is unknown in the U.S., unless you’ve ever watched Love, Actually.
It’s sort of the “Black Friday” of the British music industry. Since so much music is sold (or, at least, used to be) during the holiday season, having the #1 song on the charts during that time gives one lucky record company a financial boost.
After Slade took the top spot in 1973 with their “Merry Xmas Everybody” — beating out “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard — “an emotional attachment to the Christmas countdown has developed, and for many [in the United Kingdom], it is part of the fabric of their childhood.”
So I doubt many American readers care that there’s a campaign to get Iron Maiden’s old chestnut “The Number of the Beast” to the top of the charts in time for Christmas, “for a laugh.”
What’s really funny (sort of) is that, during the early 1970s, such a campaign would have been denounced on the front page of every British tabloid, and remarked upon within American newspapers’ “entertainment” sections, at the very least.
Because culture-watchers would see it as yet another sign of the satanic takeover of the culture, and the world — the one I wrote about last week.