Thinking Out Loud

March 22, 2015

New York House Fire Highlights Challenges of Orthodox Jewish Observance

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:49 am

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Because Orthodox Jewish observance of Torah precludes the turning on and off of electrical lights and appliances, the family left a hotplate on all night which may have sparked the blaze. On Friday night in New York City, seven children — all from one family — perished in a fire believed started by that device. ABC News reports:

Fire investigators believe a hot plate left on a kitchen counter ignited the flames that raced up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor rear bedrooms, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

Many religious Jews do not use electricity on the Sabbath, along with refraining from work and observing other prohibitions meant to keep the day holy. As a result, some families may leave them on so they are usable without violating any religious laws or traditions.

Just last week, the situation comedy Fresh Off The Boat introduced some new characters, part of an Orthodox family where the toilet is used in darkness because switching lights on is forbidden and in another scene the guests are asked to do things in the kitchen which the family cannot do themselves.

Many Evangelicals (who comprise the majority of this blog’s readers) don’t realize that in Judiasm, there are denominations, just as there are in Christianity. From that most authoritative source, Wikipedia, we learn the following:

  • Orthodox Judaism holds that both the Written and Oral Torah were divinely revealed to Moses, and that the laws within it are binding and unchanging.
  • Conservative Judaism holds that the Oral Law is divine and normative, but holds that both the Written and Oral Law may be interpreted by the rabbis to reflect modern sensibilities and suit modern conditions.
  • Reform Judaism  rejects most of the ritual and ceremonial laws of the Torah while observing moral laws, and emphasizes the ethical call of the Prophets.

Denominationalism in Judiasm is not a recent development. We know that Jesus entered into a situation where some Jews followed the teachings of Hillel and others followed Shammai. Jesus brought new teachings which did not build on what was previously taught but came from his own authority: “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” (And the belief system which followed from his teachings and resurrection, thought not initially termed Christianity, was represented very quickly by different strands, or sects.)

However, his general ethic seemed to be founded on the idea of opting for that which preserves life. He brings up the story of David and his men eating the consecrated bread from the temple as an example of practicality. And then,

NASB-Luke 14:5 And He said to them, “ Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?”

By Orthodox standards, Jesus’ teachings would be seen as quite liberal, if not heretical or even blasphemous (because of what they would perceive as his, at the very least casual attitude toward the law, or at worst, contempt for it).  But what would he say in today’s world, where Orthodox observance meets with the technology afforded by electric lights and ovens and (for New York apartment dwellers) pushing elevator floor buttons.

Back to the news story… Did some in the dominantly Jewish neighborhood hesitate to call 911 because of a prohibition against using a telephone? The fire did spread very quickly, so we certainly don’t want to attach blame here. But another Wikipedia page offers some insight:

Like other electrical appliances, telephones are bound by similar restrictions on Shabbat. Operating a telephone may involve separate prohibitions at each stage of the operation. Thus, removing a telephone from the receiver to produce a dial tone closes a circuit and makes a noise. Dialing closes more circuits and creates more noises. Speaking on the phone increases an existing current, but Rabbi Shlomo Auerbach and many other authorities permit this. Hanging up the phone opens a circuit, which is a Biblical prohibition of “destroying” according to the Chazon Ish but a Rabbinic prohibition according to others.

Dialing on many phones, including cell phones, also causes the numbers to be written on a display screen, thus violating the prohibition of writing (even though the writing is not permanent). If a phone call must be made on Shabbat, other factors being equal, it is preferable to use a phone without a display screen.

and then adds,

In some cases, the telephone may be a lifeline in the event of an emergency, in which case the laws of Shabbat are of course suspended: a life-saving phone call may be made.

What might the Rabbi of Nazareth say about a hotplate which introduces the risk of loss of life? Would the principle of life over law extend to the risk imposed by the hotplate left burning through the night?

It certainly highlights the complexities of a legalistic code about which those outside the faith know very little.

image: ABC News (click link in story)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 20, 2015

The Bible and the Weather Forecast

Before his recent suspension from NBC’s Nightly News broadcast, I always thought that if I ever found myself sitting next to Brian Williams on an airplane, the first question I would ask is, “Do you remember the last time you did an evening newscast without a weather story?

free_snow_signMuch of the American news coverage revolves around hurricanes and tornadoes and drought in the summer and freezing rain and record snowfalls in the winter. One has to wonder if the place was ever meant to be inhabited. To those who constantly ask, “Is America in Bible prophecy,” the answer might have more to do with the country being diminished by weather catastrophe than by some major loss of economic influence.

In my native Canada, we are more accustomed to the worst the meteorologists have to forecast. Everything from clothing to cars to housing must be able to withstand temperatures varying from -40°C to +40°C, and even lower wind chill factors and higher humidity indexes. (To my U.S. readers, I’m sorry that you are one of only two countries left that does not use the metric system. I think pride has a lot to do with that. The lower temperature is the same -40°F as this is the place where the two scales meet. The higher would be 104°F.) Canada has also built infrastructures — the banking of roads is a great example — with winter in mind and each municipality and province is well equipped with trucks and snowplows as well as alternatives to salt, which is ineffective below a certain point on the thermometer.

By contrast, it was reported two nights ago that a large U.S. municipality has only 12 trucks for spreading salt, no doubt due to its situation in what is termed “the south.” Changing weather patterns mean that preparedness takes on a new importance. Perhaps this type of truck can be re-purposed for other duties when the temperatures are warmer.

I heard it recently here suggested that America spends so much on its government bureaucracy, and so much on the war effort, that the money simply doesn’t exist to keep southern Interstate highways free of snow and ice.

But back to our theme, I can’t help but think of a couple of verses in Luke 21 where Jesus is speaking:

There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.  (11)  There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. (25)

These verses are part of a longer prophetic section which, just as you can skip stones across a lake, had one more immediate fulfillment and can be expected to have yet another fulfillment to come.

I noticed I wrote about weather at least once a year here.  In 2011:

I think weather is a rather weak “sign” of the impending ending to the “age of grace” when compared with, for example, moral decay. When people say, “Look at the way the world is…;” they generally are referring to its spiritual state, not its meteorological state. Furthermore, it’s the aggregate of many signs that point to “final wrap up” here.

and more practically:

I think we have a responsibility to close the windows so the rain doesn’t get in. In other words, we need to do the practical things we can do here and now.

In 2012 shortly after watching a sermon from Greg Boyd:

…Boyd is very cautious about trying to read too much into the effects of weather phenomena: “It’s like reading tea leaves.” He points out that when the disciples find themselves caught at sea in a storm, Jesus, normally depicted as ‘in charge’ of the weather, actually rebukes the storm, using the same word that he would use when silencing a demon. Boyd asks, “If Jesus was in charge of the storm, why did he need to rebuke it?”

Still, there is no denying that the United States is seeing a number of modern day plagues, and since it was God himself that sent the plagues to Egypt, it is certainly easy to jump to similar conclusions with weather signs…

Last year we looked at whether (no pun intended) or not we should speak of “Mother Nature”:

…I do think that much if not all of the weather phenomena we experience is the natural consequence of living in a fallen world. When we speak questions like, “How could a loving God allow so much evil to exist?” we are usually talking about genuine evil, and not snow or drought; but it all comes under the same category. This world is broken, and we are continually adding to that brokenness through our disregard for the environment.

Is God powerless in all this? Not for a moment. I believe that God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to intervene each time someone prays, but that sometimes he holds back his hand and allows things to proceed naturally. A miracle is a miracle because it doesn’t happen every day. I don’t know if Pat Robertson really “prayed a hurricane back” from the Virginia coast in the ’70s, but I do believe that God is intervening in our planet more times than we realize. I don’t subscribe to the “clockmaker” theory that God simply “wound up” the planet and left it “ticking.” 

At the very least, the winter of 2014-15 should give us pause to consider our place in the cosmos, that we are no match for the elements, and yet for the most part we survive the winter and move on. 

Where my son is in Haiti right now, they might look at things differently however. The earthquake 5 years ago took 250,000 lives.  While the tectonic shifts are not meteorological per se, they are the effect of living in a fallen world much greatly magnified. To that, I cannot answer today, but it helps us put our weather concerns in perspective.


image: Daily Encouragement, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber

December 8, 2014

Mid-East Persecution Continues to Increase

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:25 am

I don’t always share the emails I get from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) but I think it’s important to raise awareness of what’s taking place, especially when bloggers are so focused on the American/Canadian church.

ACLJ Petition Dec 2014

It’s hard for me to even put this into words.

ISIS jihadists are now barbarically beheading Christian children.

The Christian Vicar of Baghdad is reporting that ISIS terrorists demanded that four children recant their faith and “say the words that you will follow Muhammad.”

These brave Christian children – all under 15 years old – refused, saying “No, we love Jesus.”

ISIS cut off their heads.

Evil.

There is no other word to describe the horror.

As people of faith, we must not allow this to continue. We must defend Christians from ISIS genocide.

Christian children are willing to face death for their faith in Christ.

We must defend them.

We demanded the Obama Administration take action, and it is, but not nearly enough.

Be heard for these persecuted Christian children.

Sign Our Petition: Stop the Genocide of Christians in Iraq.

Jay Sekulow
ACLJ Chief Counsel

December 2, 2014

Book Review: Compassion Without Compromise

Compassion Without CompromiseIn many ways, the most epic achievement a book can offer is living up to the rather grand premise of a challenging title. Compassion Without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth (Baker Books) takes on this challenge and provides a thorough examination of the present climate in the Church and the broader culture with very different approaches in each of the ten chapters.

I tried to read this book imagining its impact on people with whom I have conversations on this topic, people who find themselves immersed in this issue because of relationships with sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, neighbors, co-workers, or fellow-students; as well as a few people who are either gay themselves (both out, outed or closeted) or dealing with curiosity or confusion.

Probably some of them would say the book leans more on the side of conviction and less on the side of compassion. I’m not sure that is avoidable, given the context of the larger Christian publishing environment. What I do see however is that the heart of the authors’ intent comes through at various points and there is a solid attempt at trying to be compassionate without discounting what they see as Biblical absolutes.

Still, there are people for whom I would recommend this, even as they find they find themselves in the middle of a situation where they, or someone they know is dealing with either overt homosexuality or quiet same sex attraction. Adam Barr and Ron Citlau approach this book in their role as pastors who have counseled many people on this subject, and Ron brings the added empathy of someone who, by his own admission, was much involved in the gay sex scene before his life changed 17 years ago.

There were a couple of sections toward the end of the book I felt the authors handled very well. One was a dismissal of the argument that many of the laws in Leviticus no longer apply today, so why should we hang on to one single aspect of sexuality, when we are quick to ignore prohibitions against, for example, wearing clothing of mixed fibers? The authors point out four specific Old Testament commandments concerning sex that are repeated in the New Testament. That chapter is must reading, especially if you have a friend who keeps raising this particular objection.

The other section I liked, though it will frustrate some readers, was a Q & Q chapter — I’ve named it that because there were no answers, hence not Q & A — listing all of the various scenarios currently encountered as a result of the rapidly changing culture. (Though about ten common sample questions are dealt with.) I found this catalog of thorny issues and hot potatoes, most of which are not so hypothetical, to be useful in understanding the challenges Christians now face. But I also wished that chapter had appeared at the beginning of the book, and had in fact been the basis of what followed. To get that far in and realize how many practical situations need to be wrestled with was to feel that in its short 140 or so pages, the book had only begun to deal with the larger topic.

Yes, we can have compassion without compromising convictions, but doing so involves a softening our attitude and also earning the right to be heard, while maintaining respect for God’s best.


Read an excerpt from Compassion Without Compromise at Christianity 201


Compassion Without Compromise was provided to Thinking Out Loud by the blog review program of Baker Books.

 

November 29, 2014

The Religious Implications of Saying “ISIS Captured the Town”

Chaldean Sisters of the Sacred Heart Monastery in Mosul: Before and after ISIS destroyed it

Chaldean Sisters of the Sacred Heart Monastery in Mosul: Before and after ISIS destroyed it on Monday

From Independent Catholic News:

Since taking over Mosul on June 10, Aina News report that ISIS has destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered all 45 Christian institutions in Mosul.

The following is the complete list of the Christian institutions in Mosul, grouped by denomination.

Syriac Catholic Church:

Syrian Catholic Diocese – Maidan Neighborhood, Mosul
The Old Church of the Immaculate – Maidan Neighborhood, Mosul (The church goes back to the eighth century AD)
The New Church of the Immaculate – Maidan Neighborhood
Church of Mar (Saint) Toma – Khazraj Neighborhood
Museum of Mar (Saint) Toma – Khazraj Neighborhood
Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation – Muhandiseen Neighborhood
Church of the Virgin of Fatima – Faisaliah Neighborhood
Our Lady of Deliverance Chapel – Shifaa Neighborhood
The House of the Young Sisters of Jesus – Ras Al-Kour Neighborhood
Archbishop’s Palace Chapel – Dawasa Neighborhood

Syriac Orthodox Church:

Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese – Shurta Neighborhood
The Antiquarian Church of Saint Ahodeeni – Bab AlJadeed Neighborhood
Mar (Saint) Toma Church and cemetery, (the old Bishopric) – Khazraj Neighborhood
Church of The Immaculate (Castle) – Maidan Neighborhood
Church of The Immaculate – Shifaa Neighborhood
Mar (Saint) Aprim Church – Shurta Neighborhood
St. Joseph Church – The New Mosul Neighborhood

Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East:

Diocese of the Assyrian Church of the East – Noor Neighborhood
Assyrian Church of the East, Dawasa Neighborhood
Church of the Virgin Mary (old rite) – Wihda Neighborhood

Chaldean Church of Babylon:

Chaldean Diocese – Shurta Neighborhood
Miskinta Church – Mayassa Neighborhood
The Antiquarian Church of Shimon alSafa – Mayassa Neighborhood
Church of Mar (Saint) Buthyoon – Shahar AlSouq Neighborhood
Church of St. Ephrem, Wady AlAin Neighborhood
Church of St. Paul – Majmooaa AlThaqafiya District
The Old Church of the Immaculate (with the bombed archdiocese)- Shifaa Neighborhood
Church of the Holy Spirit – Bakir Neighborhood
Church of the Virgin Mary – Drakziliya Neighborhood
Ancient Church of Saint Isaiah and Cemetery – Ras AlKour Neighborhood
Mother of Aid Church – Dawasa Neighborhood
The Antiquarian Church of St. George- Khazraj Neighborhood
St. George Monastery with Cemetery – Arab Neighborhood
Monastery of AlNasir (Victory) – Arab Neighborhood
Convent of the Chaldean Nuns – Mayassa Neighborhood
Monastery of St. Michael – Hawi Church Neighborhood
The Antiquarian Monastery of St. Elijah – Ghazlany Neighborhood

Armenian Orthodox Church:

Armenian Church – Maidan Neighborhood
The New Armenian Church – Wihda Neighborhood

Evangelical Presbyterian Church:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church – Mayassa Neighborhood

Latin Church:

Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers and Convent of Katrina Siena Nuns – Sa’a Neighborhood
Convent of the Dominican Sisters, – Mosul AlJadeed Neighborhood
Convent of the Dominican Sisters (AlKilma Monastery) – Majmooaa AlThaqafiya District
House of Qasada AlRasouliya (Apostolic Aim) (Institute of St. John the Beloved)

Cemeteries:

Christian Cemetery in the Ekab Valley which contains a small chapel.

Source: Fides/Aina

November 20, 2014

What if…

Filed under: current events — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

Huffington Religion Nov 18 2014

What if instead of a Jewish prayer book, that was a Bible or a hymnbook that you recognized in the picture?

What if instead of happening half a world away this took place in a Christian church a few blocks from your house?

What if instead of the victims having foreign-sounding surnames, the names were people that you knew personally?

…Religious terrorism always happens somewhere else, but what if…?

November 17, 2014

Bruxy Cavey | The Meeting House | The Rise of Isis | Part Three

Filed under: current events — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:43 am

The third and final message in this vital series.

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November 16, 2014

Bruxy Cavey | The Meeting House | The Rise of ISIS | Part Two

We continue our weekend with The Meeting House Church in Greater Toronto. In part two, teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey spends time interviewing a spokesperson for a Toronto-area mosque.

Depending on the timing of its release on Monday, we might be able to put all three episodes back-to-back here. So subscribers should expect that Monday’s post might be late.

November 15, 2014

Bruxy Cavey | The Meeting House | The Rise of ISIS | Part One

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

Bruxy Cavey is the teaching pastor of The Meeting House, a Canadian church movement that meets in 15 theaters on Sunday mornings and is based in Oakville, a city just west of Toronto, Canada.  I believe this series of three messages is important for our time and that it was handled with a great deal of diplomacy. That’s why I want to include it here. Come back tomorrow for part two. Comments can be left at YouTube.

November 6, 2014

Philip Yancey on the Twilight of Grace

Changing societyIn my single digit years, I collected a box filled with low-tech, low-cost “magic” tricks, one of which consisted of two large die-cut pieces of cardboard in the shape of the letter ‘C.” One was red and one was blue, and as you held them side-by-side, if the red one was on the right it always appeared to be larger; but when you switched them, the blue one then appeared to be larger. The cutout pieces are identical in size, but the mind views the second one as larger when contrasted to the inside curve of the one before.

I always have this picture in my mind whenever I read something that purports to state that society is categorically getting worse. Haven’t people said that in past centuries also? Is the trajectory of society really in what pilots call a “graveyard spiral” or is redemption possible? Or perhaps do things simply go in cycles?

Philip Yancey’s book Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? (Zondervan) is in many ways a state-of-the-union address on the moral, ethical and spiritual condition of our world in general and the Church of Jesus Christ in particular. Ever the journalist, Yancey tracks down every lead while at the same time maintaining a subjectivity common to most of his other writings. So it’s our world and his pilgrimage; one man’s effort to document where the human race is heading and how it impacts on one writer in the Colorado mountains.

Vanishing GraceYou could easily read Vanishing Grace and conclude that these are the rantings of a writer who has finally reached his curmudgeon years. ‘Back in my day…’ you expect to hear him say; but Yancey is on to you and instead each section is scented with the slight aroma of the hope that no matter how dark, there are still lights and there is still The Light.

The subjectivity means that the book is rooted in an American perspective, but Yancey’s travels have made him very much a citizen of the world, and so the book is one part personal reflection, one part ripped from the pages of the newspaper and its online equivalent, and one part history lesson, borrowing from the best of both actual events and what has been expressed by poets, playwrights and novelists.

Some will find the book a little disjointed. In the introduction he states that he set out to write a book, but really wrote four books. In the afterword, he acknowledges that parts of the book previously appeared in print and online in a variety of forums. This is not a problem, as Vanishing Grace is intended for the thinking Christian who ought to be able to navigate the manner in which the material has been arranged.

Yancey writes,

The church works best as a separate force, a conscience to society that keeps itself at arms length from the state. The closer it gets, the less effectively it can challenge the surrounding culture and the more perilously it risks losing its central message. Jesus left his followers the command to make disciples from all nations. We have no charge to “Christianize” the United States or any other country — an impossible goal in any case.  (p. 253)

Just a few pages later he adds,

Several years ago a Muslim man said to me, “I have read the entire Koran and find in it no guidance on how Muslims should live as a minority in society. I have read the entire New Testament and can find in it no guidance on how Christians should live as a majority.” He pointed out that Islam seeks to unify religion and law, culture and politics. The courts enforce religious (sharia) law, and in a nation like Iran the mullahs, not the politicians, hold the real power. (p. 258)

Both the first and second halves of that excerpt are packed with food for thought, typical of what one finds in the pages of this book.

Is Vanishing Grace truly a sequel to What’s So Amazing About Grace? written nearly two decades earlier? The new book certainly brings a maturity to the subject, but I would contend that the earlier title is well-suited to new believers and house study groups, while this 2014 is more profitable for pastors, leaders, mature Christ-followers or anyone interested in how one Christian views the state of our changing world. One thing that both share however — and this is common to much of Yancey’s writing — is their acceptability to giving to someone outside your faith circle.

An advance copy of the book was provided by the Canadian marketing department of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.


Here’s a longer book excerpt that ran at Christianity 201 a few days ago:

Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” wrote John in the preface to his gospel.  The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula:  witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine.  I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace.  Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt-dispensers than as grace-dispensers.

John records one close-up encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.  Knowing well the antipathy between the two groups, she marveled that a Jewish rabbi would even speak to her.  At one point she brought up one of the disputed points of doctrine:  Who had the proper place of worship, the Jews or the Samaritans?  Jesus deftly sidestepped the question and bore in on a far more important issue:  her unquenched thirst.  He offered her not judgment but a lasting solution to her guilt over an unsettled life.  To her and her alone he openly identified himself as Messiah and chose her as a grace-dispenser.  Her transformation captured the attention of the whole town, and Jesus stayed for two days among the “heretics,” attracting many converts.

That scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman came up during a day I spent with the author Henri Nouwen at his home in Toronto.  He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death.  “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories,”  he told me.  “So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.”

Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week.  As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched.  From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people.  And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

That day with the gentle priest has stayed with me.  Now, whenever I encounter strident skeptics who mock my beliefs or people whose behavior I find offensive, I remind myself of Henri Nouwen’s prayer.  I ask God to keep me from rushing to judgment or bristling with self-defense.  Let me see them as thirsty people, I pray,  and teach me how best to present the Living Water.

(pp 27-29)


For an interview with the author, check out all six pages at this link to Leadership Journal

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