Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Work of Christmas Begins

Yes, we found the child just as we had been told. I wondered then, as I do now sometimes, why this one who was to be a Savior, our Messiah, would be born in a lowly stable, laid in a feeding trough, and surrounded by animals? But as I looked at that child that night, and he looked at me, I knew in my heart the truth of the angel’s words. Truly this was Christ the Lord.

After awhile, we left them alone and made our way back to the hillside and our sheep. We all praised God for this great thing which had been made known to us, yet I found my heart strangely troubled at the same time. If indeed this was Christ the Lord, what did this mean for me? And why was I, not Herod or Caesar, called to the manger-side? What was it that I heard in my heart? What calling was there?

On the Sabbath next, I made my way to the synagogue with my family, as usual. I had told my wife and children of this miraculous event and they wondered with me of its meaning with each telling and retelling. The rabbi stood and took the scroll and read the day’s lesson, intoning the prophet Isaiah’s words slowly and solemnly, “The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient, Nor did I turn back.” Then, reverently, he recovered the scroll, placed it back on the altar and turned to the congregation. “There is one,” he said to us, “even among us now, who has been witness to great things. Who has been awakened by morning and whose ear has been opened. He has been given the tongue of disciples so that he might sustain the weary one with a word. May he not turn back.” Then he looked at me and sat down. My heart burned within me, remembering that magical night and now the words of the prophet and the rabbi.

My wife clutched my arm as we left synagogue that morning. My mind was a jumble. I was just a simple shepherd. A working man. I was not learned like the rabbi. I had not been trained as a healer or counselor. I was just a man. How could I be called to be a disciple?

I made my way back to the mountainside the next evening, tending the flock, my thoughts awhirl. One of the lambs wandered off. We all grumbled about who would have to traipse along the mountainside in the dark, seeking this one who was lost. “I’ll go,” I said, grateful for some time to be alone and think, though thinking had been all I’d been up to ever since the Angel night.

I walked along the mountain trails that night, listening both for the sound of the lost lamb and God. I heard them both, at last, about the same time. As I reached down to pick up the scratched and bleeding lamb, bleating from pain, caught in brambles, God spoke. “You have seen the angels. You have seen the babe. You have beheld the light. Your witness did not end that night. It only began. You are my disciple. You are to sustain the weary with both words and deeds. You are to seek them out, just has you have this lamb.”

“Then I will leave my flock, Lord,” I asked. “I will abandon this trade and go and study and learn so that I might speak and act with the eloquence your disciples should display.”

“No,” came the thundering silence. “No. You are a disciple. You are a shepherd. You are called to both.”

Then His voice grew silent. I was left alone with my thoughts and the pitiful bleating of the wounded sheep in my arms.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Joseph -- Silent and Still: An Advent Meditation

Joseph – the silent partner in the Christmas story. Baby Jesus, rightfully, gets the most press. Next come the other featured players – Mary, the Shepherds and the Magi. Even horrible old Herod gets as much mention as Joseph. He is named just 10 times in the Nativity stories (half as many times as Mary) – often as a minor character. In only one portion of Scripture is he the main character.

Imagination, that most human of traits, tries to fill in the blanks. Often it does just do just that. W.H. Auden’s does in today’s poem, where he places Joseph in contemporary society. Auden was born in York, England and educated at Oxford. T.S. Eliot helped him launch his literary career, which began in 1928, the year he graduated Oxford. As a witness to the Spanish Civil War, Auden became increasingly religious and revealed that bent in his poetry. In 1946 he published For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio and dedicated it to his mother. Today’s poem, The Temptation of St. Joseph, comes from that Oratorio.

All I ask is one
Important and elegant proof
That what my Love had done
Was really at your will
And that your will is Love.

No, you must believe;
Be silent, and sit still.

When we think of how people of faith are to respond to life’s difficulties, we often think of Job, that marvelous Old Testament man. “The patience of Job” is a cliché that is common currency in our language. I suggest, for all of Job’s goodness, there is an even better model for us today and that is the one of Joseph.

What happens to Joseph is almost as calamitous as what happens to Job. His life and reputation are about to be ruined by the actions of the young maid to whom he is betrothed. Dishonor is about to come upon him. Mary is obviously pregnant. Joseph, as a righteous man, he can not in good conscience marry Mary, who was now thought to be unfaithful. Such a marriage would be an admission that he had some hand in this breaking of the law. But Joseph is as compassionate as he righteous and is unwilling to expose Mary to the disgrace of public divorce. He therefore choses a quieter way of obtaining a divorce, requesting one before two witnesses, permitted by the law. It would leave both his righteousness (his conformity to the law) and his compassion intact.

Auden’s setting his Joseph in the modern world brings home to us in a way that the Christmas card setting which we’ve made the Bible story into cannot, Joseph’s dilemma – people whispering behind his back – or to his face. We cannot know the town’s people’s reaction to all this as the Bible doesn’t say. Auden helps us paint that picture ourselves. No wonder Joseph wanted to do what he planned – to put her away quietly and let the whole thing fade away.
But before he can put his plan into action, an angel comes in a dream. We modern day skeptics (myself included) by and large disregard dreams. Many of mine need to be disregarded – what can a dream of squirrels living behind the siding of my house in Seattle or my needing to give Nancy's car battery a jump while it’s sitting in an auto repair shop have to do with anything.
But dreams as means of divine communication in the Bible are the norm. In Joseph’s case, an “angel of the Lord” reminds the reader of divine messengers of ages past and focuses on God’s gracious intervention and the messenger's private communication.

The angel's opening words, “Joseph son of David,” ties this passage to the Davidic genealogy mentioned earlier in the first chapter of Matthew, from which today’s lesson comes. To Joseph, this greeting alerts him to the significance of the role he is to play. Joseph is about to find himself drawn into the mystery of the Incarnation.

The angel tells Joseph what he really needs to know -- that all this took place to fulfill Scripture. The last clause is phrased with exquisite care, literally, “the word spoken by the Lord through the prophet.”

Auden does something else that Scripture does not. He has Joseph saying
All I ask is one
Important and elegant proof
That what my Love had done
Was really at your will
And that your will is Love.

We have all felt that way at one time or another. We want to know that the circumstances that are occurring are really God’s will and that God’s will is Love – with a capital “L.”

Now some things that happen do not seem to me to have any grounding at all in my understanding of God and God’s will. And I am not going to try to force them into that. Instead, this cry of Joseph as related by Auden reminds me of the desire of my heart, to confidently affirm deep in my soul Paul’s words that “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even when I can’t see it and especially when I don’t believe it.

The angel’s response, as given by Auden, is as profound.
No, you must believe;
Be silent, and sit still.

“No, you must believe. Be silent … and still.” Hard words to hear; harder to obey. Yet that is the essence of faith at times – you must believe. Not acquiesce, but believe. Faith, after all, is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, according to the writer of Hebrews. Sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Well, sometimes faith is stronger than at others. Still, if we desire to know that God’s will is Love, we must believe. We must trust – even when trust is impossible.

I would further suggest that the example of Joseph shows us that believing and being silent and still are actions of the inner life. They do not prohibit outward action. Joseph does not lock himself away in his carpenter’s shop. Instead he is a man of action – even if he is still in his soul. He marries the maid, they travel to Bethlehem, he leads Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safekeeping, and brings them home again when Herod’s threat is passed. There are no records of Joseph speaking anywhere in Scripture. He is a man of action, not words.

That is one of the lesson’s for us from the characters of Christmas – that our “yes” to God can be modeled on Joseph as well as any other Christmas character. He believes and acts, even when he’d rather have answers to his questions. He is silent and still in his soul.

May we be, at the season and through all of our lives, silent and still, even while we are busy living. May we be free to ask the questions that trouble our souls. May we be confident that God looks upon us with Love. May we be like Joseph – people of soulful action.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Shepherds -- of Sheep and the Lamb: An Advent Meditation

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” That’s a passage we know so well that we can almost see these shepherds, huddled against the night’s cold, casting watchful eyes over their sheep. We have imbued them, these shepherds, with a sort of nobility that we don’t accord those considered the true royalty of that time, save the 3 kings from the Orient. Perhaps that is because they were the first to hear the news of the baby’s birth. And not by any ordinary means – no, by a host of angels.

Poet Beth Merizon also gives us some insight into why we honor these simple shepherds. I think it has to do with what is revealed in that last section of scripture: “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child…. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” They are the first, not just witnesses, but believers.

"Star Witness”

How could we be anything but true
believers –
We shepherds who heard the news
first-hand from heaven.

There stood that angel on the
grazing ground
Like a white fan,
Like a white blaze,
lighting the air all around;
Telling us the Promised One had come,
And where He was,
And what His destiny.

And then that great arc of angels
Singing a gloria.

We left our sheep that night
And found the Lamb.

The shepherds, by their readiness to seek out the babe in the manger and by their joy at seeing him and their faith and belief, are prototypes of all humble souls who seek the Savior.

They were unlikely heroes of faith, these shepherds. They weren’t the sort of men whom the general populace expected would receive angelic announcements. Those sorts of messages should have, by all human reckoning, gone to men like the three wise kings of the east. But no angels come to them. Instead they receive a star to guide them. God, perhaps as a way of showing that faith is best grounded in real life rather than much formal learning, sends the heavenly singers to the shepherds – men who consult no books, study the skies for nothing except clues for the weather, and have no social standing.

These men, huddled on the foresty hillsides of Palestine, warm beneath their ram skins, eyes vigilant, on guard against roaming wolves, were of low station. Shepherds of Jesus time were considered, by the general populace, generally untrustworthy (which makes Jesus’ later stories centering around the shepherd’s role in the life of faith all the more remarkable). Even worse, their work made them ceremonially unclean.

The idea of uncleanness is something we don’t know much about, but was an important part of Jewish life. The division between clean and unclean was fundamental for Israelites. They were commanded by the Law to be physically clean, ritually and ceremonially clean (having offered the right sacrifices and been through the correct ceremonies), and morally clean. When people or things became unclean, they had to be washed to be considered clean again.

The shepherds were considered unclean because they had daily contact with carcasses of animals and came into contact, however incidental, with all sorts of unclean animals. Common unclean animals included spiders, flies, bugs, rats, and mice. A dead rat was not something to be overlooked. It was carefully taken out and buried. It’s a distinction we don’t think about today, but was strongly enforced in those days and had solid medical reasoning behind it, in the days before refrigeration and Orkin pest control.

So, surprisingly, when the angelic announcement arrives, it comes first to the social outcasts of Jesus’ day. These men are unclean and there is no mention of them stopping off to become clean before they make their trek to Jerusalem to see the new born babe. Which has further significance for us today. It tells us that we are called to God, in a paraphrase of the old gospel song, just as we are. The invitation to return to God’s good graces is the invitation to a “come as you are” party.

The shepherd’s coming, in their unclean state, is also a way of showing us that the faith he calls us to is not a list of purity rules and regulations. The old passed away, a new covenant was being given. We know that in Jesus’ time, sacrifice was required for the forgiveness of sin. Clean animals were sacrificed in a proscribed manner by priests made ritually clean. Only then were a person’s sins forgiven.

Now this idea of sacrifice is something that our modern nature rebels against – the idea that animals could be an atonement for human sins. And I don’t propose to understand or explain it. I am just reporting it. Regardless of our sensibilities, this is how it was done.

Until, that is, Jesus comes to give us a new way. That’s because Jesus comes as the new sacrifice. That’s what the gospels tell us. Jesus is called the Lamb of God over and over, beginning when John the Baptist (“John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”). This title emphasizes the redemptive character of the work of Christ. The Passover lamb represented redemption from sin. The substitutionary use of the unblemished lamb in this sacrifice foreshadows the idea of the Suffering Servant, who as a lamb dies in the place of sinners.

As Isaiah says,
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter…

In Jesus’ case, his sacrifice was not performed by consecrated priests in the temple, following an ordained ritual, but by Romans – Gentiles, men who were considered, at the time and by Jewish custom, to be unclean. This new sacrifice breaks all the old rules. And in doing so, brings forgiveness of sin to all people for all time.

The shepherds, who knew sheep as few other men did, left their “sheep that night and found the Lamb.” They were men who could recognize the Lamb of God as others could not.

And in their open and honest worship of the newborn king, they restored some of their social standing – earning the nobility we grace them with today. They also recover some of the honor that was King David’s – called as he was from shepherding a flock to shepherding a kingdom. And became the royal ancestor of the Messiah.

They also point the way that those of us who would follow the Lamb of God, must become like shepherds – exercising joyful caring in various ways to others.

They left their “sheep that night and found the Lamb.” May we, at this advent time, also embark on such a journey of spiritual discovery.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Armed Church: A Sign of the Gospel?

I was listening to Over the Rhine's haunting version of "Little Town of Bethlehem" ("Snow Angels" CD) and was particularly struck with the verses added by Linford

The lamplit streets of Bethlehem
We walk now through the night
There is no peace in Bethlehem
There is no peace in sight

The wounds of generations
Almost too deep to heal
Scar the timeworn miracle
And make it seem surreal

The baby in the manger
Grew to a man one day
And still we try to listen now
To what he had to say

Put up your swords forever
Forgive your enemies
Love your neighbor as yourself
Let your little children come to me

Then came the announcement of the shootings in Colorado this past Sunday. Besides the obvious tragedy of the events, it seemed another tragedy nestled deep within them and went largely unnoticed. Until, that is, my friend David Lott put words to it. He has graciously given me persmission to reprint his blogged thoughts below:

By anyone's measure, this past Sunday's shootings at the Youth with a Mission training center in Arvada, Colorado, and the New Life Church in Colorado Springs were horrifying, and the five deaths--including that of the shooter, Matthew Murray--tragic. Yet throughout the prevasive media coverage of this incident, one dimension of it has gone relatively unremarked upon in both mainstream and religious circles, at least here in Washington--the presence of armed security guards at New Life Church, one of whom shot Murray three times (It was later revealed that he actually died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound). Indeed, in their race to interview the guard, Jeanne Assam, and elevate her as a hero, most reporters have treated the presence of an armed security guard as normal in Christian churches. That Pastor Brady Boyd, New Life's senior minister, has a personal bodyguard, hasn't seemed to strike anyone as unusual.

I raise this point not as a lead-up for a polemic on gun control or to make moral judgments on the security guard herself. Even a pacifist such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would probably agree that Assam's actions were morally justified in their attempt to prevent a greater loss of life. But what would Bonhoeffer make of a church that employs its own security force, much less one that packs heat? This is not to say that churches have never had to seek special protection. Even Martin Luther had his protectors! Perhaps even the churches that Bonhoeffer knew had to be on guard against Nazi threats. I have little doubt that black churches in the South active in the civil rights movement had to take special measures to protect their congregations, as did many Islamic congregations after the 9/11 attacks.

Yet such security efforts seem historically to be attached to special circumstances where a real, often societal, danger has been identified to the church and/or its leaders. But the use of armed security personnel as a normal part of life at New Life Church and other megachurches (the 30,000-member Potter's House in Dallas reports having forty security staff) strikes me as a new, or at least unremarked-upon, phenomenon that raises significant issues for reflective people of faith. And the issues are not simply cultural, but also biblical and theological.

Even in the story of Jesus, we see a rejection of such defensive actions. In Matthew 26:51ff., we are told that when Jesus is arrested as he leaves the garden of Gethsemane, one of his followers "put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear." Jesus rebukes this man, saying, "Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish the sword." Jesus' disciples at this time were people still making a transition from a way of life that demanded such defensive measures; indeed, many undoubtedly came from less-than-savory, if not criminal, backgrounds. Given this, one can't help but imagine that Jesus would be at least somewhat dismayed by the presence of armed guards in a church setting.

I believe most American churchgoers would probably share such a sense of bewilderment. For most Christians, the idea of a hiring armed guards is not only unthinkable, but also offensive to their understanding of the antiviolent nature of the gospel message. Certainly, violence at churches is not all that uncommon, but in most cases it happens at churches that would never consider hiring security forces, even if they could afford to do so. In short, it's simply difficult for many of us not to think that a congregation which must resort to such measures has misplaced some dimension of its soul, or lost some of its vision of what it means to be called together and live as the body of Christ. The questions are unavoidable: Are these churches taking sensible and pragmatic measures in response to their circumstances? Or are they simply acceding to a violent culture rather than working to transform it and stand against it?

The pragmatic response carries an undeniably strong logic. Certainly, with the size of the offerings such worship centers bring in at each service, they could easily be targets for thieves looking for readily available cash. And as reporter Karl Vick noted in a recent Washington Post article, "the institiutions exist as clearinghouses for the kinds of personal strife that can spiral into conflict." In Lexington, Kentucky, I witnessed two megachurches in close proximity to each other who must use local police to manage the traffic in and out of their worship centers in ways that do not disrupt their neighborhoods or regular traffic. Indeed, as a person in Vick's article notes, "When you are dealing with a large congregation on a Sunday morning, it is like a small city."

Yet the cultural accession argument is at least equally strong. Where do we usually encounter armed security guards in our daily lives? At places like museums and monuments, in large office buildings, and at shopping malls. And indeed, that last location is exactly the form that many megachurches have come to replicate in their creating multibuilding campuses that feature not just worship space and educational facilities, but also gyms, coffee shops, bookstores, and other indigenous businesses. They have become spiritual lifestyle centers that mirror the consumerist centers that dominate our suburbs and are reviving our city centers by meeting the needs of their constituents (read: members). When one reaches a certain critical mass of stuff and property, finding ways to protect those belongings becomes paramount. And this kind of consumption has a way of feeding fear.

Yet it is not simply a materialist/consumerist ideology that is at issue, it is even more a matter of ecclesiology. Increasingly, today's parishioners and their leaders seem to understand the nature of the church as being a need-meeting place. One of my former colleagues used to assert that if a church wasn't meeting her needs, then she wasn't going to spend much time there. Such an attitude seems to pervade much contemporary thinking about churches, and shapes much church-oriented publishing as well. The needs of multiple constituencies all make demands on the congregation's programming, and a failure to meet even one of such needs becomes an automatic black mark on that church's perceived relevance. More classic understandings of the nature of the church, shaped more by theology than by culture, have come to be regarded as outmoded. Indeed, in my experience, talking about eccesiology with many congregational experts makes them extremely uneasy! If they don't embrace the need-meeting construction of the church, a sociological/psychological motif, such as that of family systems theory, becomes their ecclesiological substitute.

This is not to condemn out of hand any members of New Life Church or any other megachurch as being spiritually shallow materialists, ecclesiologically faulty, or focused only on self-need. Undoubtedly some powerful ministry comes out of many of these churches. But it's disheartening that many of these churches and their leaders seem to defend the pragmatic, cultural answer reflexively, without giving us any evidence of deeper reflection on the theological and church-cultural implications of reaching a point of growth where such security measures would become so necessary. Some will simply respond that the growing criminal nature of our society make such measures an unfortunate must. Yet when their church membership and attendance reached the point that hiring security forces became essential, did any of these leaders ever consider that other ways of managing such growth might be more theologically palatable than hiring armed guards? Has Brady Boyd, or his predecessor, Ted Haggard, ever considered that needing a personal bodyguard sends a message counter to what we hear in Matthew?

In the wake of these shootings, undoubtedly many congregations will be pondering what, if any, security measures they need to employ to keep their churches safe. Some will react out of fear, and take advantage of local gun laws that allow people to carry personal firearms, which they will in turn carry into their local sanctuaries. Others will reassert their convictions of the church as a place of open doors, of being a house of prayer for all peoples. This Sunday, churches across America will hear Isaiah's glorious vision of the ransomed of the Lord returning to Zion. Today we must ask ourselves, When these exiled get there, will they find the land open and accessible so that may rejoice in the blooming desert, obtain joy and gladness, and experience the flight of their sorrow and sadness? Or will they be greeted with the suspicion and fear that cooperation with violence breeds?
David B. Lott is editor of New Proclamation (Fortress Press) and online host for the Web site (subscription only), which features his weekly blog View from the Hill. He lives in Washington, D.C.
The article David refers to can be found at Washington Post

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Holy Places" -- Brent's Newest Book

From the shameless self-promotion department -- Brent's newsest book, co-written with co-workers Nancy DeMott and Tim Shapiro, has just been released. It's title is Holy Places: Matching Sacred Space with Mission and Message. It's important topic because buildings communicate. Stained glass windows, high altars, multi-purpose worship/gymnasium spaces, Plexiglas pulpits, padded pews—these and all other architectural elements say something about a congregation’s theology and mission. They point to a faith community’s beliefs about worship, identity, purpose, and more. From the stark simplicity of a Quaker meetinghouse to the splendor of a Romanesque Revival building, sacred spaces speak loudly. What they say can either reinforce a congregation’s mission or detract from it.

Our book is designed to be used by congregations who are involved in or are contemplating work on their facilities. This could include renovation, remodeling, expansion, or building. No matter how extensive the project, approaching the work with mission at the forefront is the key to having a final result that strengthens the congregation’s ministry.

Intended for leaders in a congregation’s facility project—from expert builders to novices—this book will help you create a reflective approach to your work, enable you to learn from one another, and make space for discerning God’s direction for your congregation. Each phase of the process—discern, decide, and do—consists of a series of questions that a congregation must address and assumes no particular level of prior knowledge about building issues. This effective process lets congregations begin where they are and provides the help they need to move to the next level.

Praise for the Book
“Have every member of your leadership team read Holy Places; it offers a clear and compelling guide to rethinking—not just rebuilding—your sacred place.” —Ron Wolfson, Author, The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community, President, Synagogue 3000

“The authors describe the most common mistakes made during renovation and new construction—so your congregation doesn't have to make them! The chapters outline each step of the building process, so your congregation can have confidence in the outcome—a completed project that matches your mission” —Cynthia Woolever, Sociologist, U.S. Congregational Life Project

“Holy Places coaches you in the art of good communication by enhancing your discernment and decision-making skills. This book provides you with insight to help take advantage of one of your greatest resources: opportunity.” —Keith Crouch, AIA, NCARB, Church Architecture Resources

Check it out at

-- Brent

Friday, December 07, 2007

The End of the Beginning -- Advent Thoughts

This is a good time to be alive. This is a terrible time to be alive. I mean, commerce is good, business is booming, international trade is strong. Prices aren’t all that bad. The mail gets there pretty well on time, except of course, for the occasional lost letter or during holiday times.
That’s to be expected.

There’s lots of types of entertainment to choose from – not at all like times past when there was just one or two things to do around town. There are many choices as to where and what to eat.

Physical fitness is all the rage. Everybody is health conscious – gyms are springing up everywhere. And it seems that there’s a spa in every other back yard. Spa’s – with warm water. Why some of us here remember the old days when good plumbing in a private residence was something a lot of people didn’t have.

Religious freedom is the rule rather than the exception, unlike our forefathers and some governments they lived under. That alone is something to be thankful for.

But there are problems as well. Crime is up again this year and the courts are back-logged, in spite of a generally well written and widely understood system of laws. Banking today, well, I hate to even go there, what with all the changes in interest rates and regulations that seem to change everyday. Banks are being bought and sold like so many bananas in the market. The things you have to do to get a loan or open an account. Your whole life has to become like an open book.

Then there’s the tax system. Taxes just keep going higher and higher and higher. It’s bad enough that you have to be them. You’d better do it just right or you end up having a little chat with one of their representatives. One of the last things you want to have happen to you is a visit from the tax man. I mean, we’ve all been hearing about the abuses of those guys lately. But I doubt that the government will really do anything about it.

And so many of the taxes go to support the military. The people in power seem to be increasingly buying into the sentiment that the poor will always be around and so it is up to religious organization, charitable groups and families to take of people in need. Meanwhile, the military gobble us more and more of the money and taxes keep going up.

All of this while the people running the country live high on the hog, feeding at the public trough in a city far away that many of them never leave, except for political posturing. Corruption is all around that place and the high living continues as tax rates rise.

At least many of our young men won’t serve in the military. They know our tradition and its regulations about fighting.

And some of the religious people today. Don’t get me started. Those people have turned our faith into a systems of do’s and don’ts. It’s hard enough to keep young people interested in the things of God without piling rule upon rule upon rule. I mean, not looking in a mirror on the Sabbath because you might see a gray hair and pull it out – as if that would really be working. And that’s only one of the more than two thousand rules of faith today. I mean, you have to be a scholar to remember them all, let alone understand what they mean.

And there are those blankety-blank Romans everywhere. Yes, yes, I know, compared to the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Persians and all the others who have ruled this country in the last several centuries, the Romans aren’t all that bad. At least, that’s what I hear, I’m not really old enough to remember all those other invaders. Yes, the Romans are generally benevolent if you mind your own business and don’t do anything they don’t like. But if you don’t, watch out. The road to Jerusalem is lined with crosses of those who crossed the Romans’ path. There they are hanging six feet off the ground, brave for an hour or so, until the pain of crucifixion begins to quickly sap the life from their pitiful, tortured bodies.

At least we don’t have to associate with them. That’s one of the few things they seem to understand. Our religious laws (thank God for that part of them) forbid us eating, playing or bowing down to their emperor with them. After some of the riots, they even know better than to carry their battle flags around, with all the pagan symbols on them.

Yes, it’s a good time to be alive. But it’s hard, too. I sure wish the rabbi was right about Jeremiah’s prophecy – the one he read in synagogue last Sabbath. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness.” I for one am ready for that day to come true. I think the whole nation of Israel, indeed, the whole world is. Change has to happen – and happen soon. I hope God does come quickly.