Wednesday, May 12, 2021

It happens slowly

10 Some of the redeemed had been sitting in darkness and deep gloom;
      they were prisoners suffering in chains
11 because they had disobeyed God’s instructions
      and rejected the Most High’s plans.
12 So God humbled them with hard work.
      They stumbled, and there was no one to help them.
13 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
      and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
14 God brought them out from the darkness and deep gloom;
      he shattered their chains.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
      and his wondrous works for all people,
16 because God has shattered bronze doors
      and split iron bars in two!

<idle musing>
It happens slowly, gradually, step-by-step until suddenly, you realize you have been listening to lies and you are surrounded by darkness. Not that you necessarily "disobeyed God's instructions" or "rejected the Most High's plans" as much as you looked at the dark side of things. You didn't praise God for the beauty, but instead majored on the minor little flaws. And then, suddenly, the whole world seems dark and gloomy.

Then, if you have sense, you cry out to the Lord, and he delivers you. Unfortunately, I don't always have sense, and so I wander around in the gloom for a bit before I realize I'm there, making those around me miserable by my gloom. But, eventually I realize what's happening and then cry out to the Lord, who then brings me out of the darkness and deep gloom, or in the words of another psalm (30:11–12):

11 You changed my mourning into dancing.
      You took off my funeral clothes
           and dressed me up in joy
12 so that my whole being
      might sing praises to you and never stop.
Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The source

The prophets discovered the holy dimension of living by which our right to live and to survive is measured. However, the holy dimension was not a mechanical magnitude, measurable by the yardstick of deed and reward, of crime and punishment, by a cold law of justice. They did not proclaim a universal moral mechanism but a spiritual order in which justice was the course but not the source. To them justice was not a static principle but a surge sweeping from the inwardness of God, in which the deeds of man find, as it were, approval or disapproval, joy or sorrow. There was a surge of divine pathos, which came to the souls of the prophets like a fierce passion, startling, shaking, burning, and led them forth to the perilous defiance of people’s self—assurance and contentment. Beneath all songs and sermons they held conference with God’s concern for the people, with the well out of which the tides of anger raged.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 182–83

Monday, May 10, 2021

The logical outcome

To bury the modern concern for victims under millions and millions of corpses——there you have the National Socialist way of being Nietzschean. But some will say, “This interpretation would have horrified poor Nietzsche.” Probably, yes. Nietzsche shared with many intellectuals of his time and our own a passion for irresponsible rhetoric in the attempt to get one up on opponents. But philosophers, for their misfortune, are not the only people in the world. Genuinely mad and frantic people are all around them and do them the worst turn of all: they take them at their word.—Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightening, 175

<idle musing>
Everything in that paragraph could be said of today's politicians, couldn't it? And of many media personalities. Or, as a book I read as an undergraduate for a philosophy class put it: Ideas Have Consequences. C.S. Lewis also touches on it in That Hideous Strength (he has a way of saying stuff in fiction that many can't express in essays).

One of my professors in seminary used to say that the ramifications of your ideas will be seen in your students. And he was correct, which can be a scary thought.
</idle musing>

Monday, May 03, 2021

A scary equation

Before placing too much confidence in Nietzsche, our era should have meditated on one of the most sharp and brilliant sayings of Heraclitus: “Dionysos is the same thing as Hades.” Dionysos, in other words, is the same thing as hell, the same thing as Satan, the same thing as death, the same thing as the lynch mob. Dionysos is the destructiveness at the heart of violent contagion.—Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightening, 120

Friday, April 30, 2021

Beyond words

Stirred by a yearning after the unattainable, they [mystics] want to make the distant near, the abstract concrete, to transform the soul into a vessel for the transcendent, to grasp with the senses what is hidden from the mind, to express in symbols what the tongue cannot speak, what the reason cannot conceive, to experience as a reality what vaguely dawns in intuitions. “Wise is he who by the power of his own contemplation attains to the perception of the profound mysteries which cannot be expressed in words.“—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 164–65

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Which came first? The institutions or the rituals?

Throughout history religion is the constant element in diverse and changing institutions. Therefore we cannot discount it in favor of the pseudo—solution that takes it as a mere nothing, the fifth wheel of all the coaches, without coming to grips with the opposite possibility, disagreeable as it is for modern antireligion. This possibility is that religion is the heart of every social system, the true origin and original form of all institutions, the universal basis of human culture. This solution is all the more difficult to avoid because since the golden days of rationalism we have learned more about ancient societies, Among many of these societies the institutions that the Enlightenment took for indispensable to humanity didn’t yet exist: in their place there were only sacrificial rituals.—Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightening, 89

<idle musing>
I'm finally getting around to reading this, 20+ years after it was first published. The book is fascinating and explains much that we see going on in society, with the "single-victim mentality" and scapegoating. But I find his exegesis a bit loose and I don't think his attempt to make the founding victim myth the myth is convincing. But then, anytime someone comes up with what they think is the monolithic Ur-myth usually fails. Humanity is too complex for that.

That being said, I definitely recommend the book. It might be a hard slog for people who are unfamiliar with anthropology and mythological studies, but I think the time spent would definitely repay itself in insight into human society.

I got the book via Interlibrary Loan, and won't be posting much from it as I need to get it read and returned...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

We see but dimly…

The universe, exposed to the violence of our analytical mind, is being broken apart. It is split into the known and unknown, into the seen and unseen. In mystic contemplation all things are seen as one. The mystic mind tends to hold the world together: to behold the seen in conjunction with the unseen, to keep the fellowship with the unknown through the revolving door of the known, “to learn the higher supernal wisdom from all" that the Lord has created and to regain the knowledge that once was in the possession of men and “that has perished from them." What our senses perceive is but the jutting edge of what is deeply hidden. Extending over into the invisible, the things of this world stand in a secret contact with that which no eye has ever perceived. Everything certifies to the sublime, the unapparent working jointly with the apparent. There is always a reverberation in the Beyond to every action here.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 165

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

What's the big idea?

The process of forming an idea is one of generalization and abstraction. Such a process implies a distinction between a situation and an idea. Disregard of the fullness of what transpires leads to the danger of regarding the part as the whole. An idea of a theory of God can easily become a substitute for God. This is why I have always been careful not to define God in terms of one idea. God in search of man is an ongoing process. It is not a notion, it is a process. The prophets had no idea of God. What they had was an understanding.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 162 (emphasis original)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

A notion? Or a name?

I do not approve of the term the notion of God.” The God of Israel is a name, not a notion. There is a difference between a “name” and a “notion.” I am suggesting to you: don’t teach notions of God, teach the name of God. A notion applies to all objects of similar properties. A name applies to an individual. The name “God of Israel” applies to the one and only God of all men. A notion describes, defines; a name evokes. A notion is derived from a generalization; a name is learned through acquaintance. A notion you can conceive; a name you call. I even suggested that notions and the name of God of Israel are profoundly incompatible. All notions crumble when applied to Him.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 162

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Too truthful

If I had to write a Bible, I would say that once they left Sinai, they become great Tzadikim and great Hasidim and the only thing that they did henceforth was to praise God. They would not murmur against Moshe Rabbenu. Instead, we have frequent rebellion. It was worse than at Columbia [University in the 1960s]! Does this make sense in the light of all the great things that happened to them? And so the question I ask myself is: “Ribono Shel Olam, why do you bother with us?” That the Ribono Shel Olam should bother with us who are so rebellious and so ungrateful, so callous, so hard-necked, so stiff-necked is the great paradox. The only way to understand the paradox is that God takes man very seriously.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 157

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Concerning teaching

According to Jewish tradition, God Himself teaches.

This implies that the teacher has a very great responsibility. He must mobilize all his personal power, love, insight, and understanding. The most clever gimmicks will not achieve anything of lasting value. Unless there is an inner engagement, an attachment, a personal appreciation of the subject matter, the finest instructor will become inelfective.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 152

<idle musing>
That is so true. Think back about the best teachers you have had. Their techniques were varied, but what didn't vary was their love and appreciation for the subject matter they were teaching. They weren't so much teaching, as giving you a glimpse of what motivated and inspired them. You can't help but be motivated by that kind of fire. How much moreso when what they are teaching is the love of God!
</idle musing>

Monday, April 19, 2021

empty forms

Our concern ought, therefore, to be less about technique and more about content. Judaism is not merely a matter of external forms—it is also a matter of inner living. Is Judaism still aware of inner living? We have a synagogue, certainly, but we have very little prayer. There are important institutions but no crucial commitments, many facts but no appreciation; indeed, the impulse to popularize has drained Judaism of a sense of the complexity, the subtlety, the reality of its teachings and mitzvot. What remains is a lifeless devotion to external actions, to a pattern of religious behaviorism that rests on a conviction of the utter irrelevance of theology and belief.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 149

<idle musing>
Substitute Christianity for Judaism, and church building for synagogue, and it describes contemporary U.S. Christianity all too well...
</idle musing>

Friday, April 16, 2021

A safe distance

It is true of course that most synagogues [and churches] offer adults the chance to study the Bible. But most of these classes are ineffectual. Instead of trying to bring forth the relevance of certain biblical passages and their lasting significance to us, we sometimes discuss their historic importance or their textual difficulties. Instead of standing face to face, soul to soul with the biblical word, we often try to stand above it by trying to show our own superiority to it. The fact that the prophets knew less about physics than we do does not imply that we know more than the prophets about the meaning of existence and the nature of man.

Nor is the “literary appreciation" approach more satisfactory. When I was a student in Germany, I often heard discussion about what a great collection of books the Bible is. What a great achievement, it was said, that Goethe's Faust begins with a scene from Job. We praise the Bible because it has had such a great impact on the English language and the development of English literature. But perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps this is the greatness of English literature—that it was influenced by the Bible.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 150–151

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Facade...

To make the mistake we are making is to forget how much anguish there is in every human being. Scratch the skin of any person and you come upon sorrow, frustration, unhappiness. People are pretentious. Everybody looks proud; inside he is heartbroken. We have not understood how to channel this depth of human suflfering into religious experience. Forgive me for saying so, but we have developed Jewish [Christian] sermons as if there were no personal problems. And when we do speak about the inner problems of men we borrow from psychoanalysis…—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 146

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

It's called metaphysical for a reason...

Religion is not within but beyond the limits of mere reason. Its task is not to compete with reason, to be a source of speculative ideas, but to aid us where reason gives us only partial aid. Its meaning must be understood in terms compatible with the sense of the ineffable. Frequently where concepts fail, where rational understanding ends, the meaning of observance begins. Its purpose is not essentially to serve hygiene, happiness, or the vitality of man; its purpose is to add holiness to hygiene, grandeur to happiness, spirit to vitality.

Spiritual meaning is not always limpid; transparency is the quality of glass, while diamonds are distinguished by refractive power and the play of prismatic colors.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 136–37 (emphasis original)

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The lure of technology

Let us never forget that some of the basic theological presuppositions of Judaism [and Christianity] cannot be justified in terms of human reason. Its conception of the nature of man as having been created in the likeness of God, its conception of God and history, of prayer, and even of morality, defy some of the realizations at which we have honestly arrived at the end of our analysis and scrutiny. The demands of piety are a mystery before which man is reduced to reverence and silence. In a technological society, when religion becomes a function, piety too is an instrument to satisfy his needs. We must therefore be particularly careful not to fall into the habit of looking at religion as if it were a machine which can be worked, an organization which can be run according to one's calculations.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 136

Monday, April 12, 2021

Stronger than I

Indeed, there is something which is far greater than my desire to pray. Namely, God’s desire that I pray. There is something which is far greater than my will to believe. Namely, God’s will that I believe. How insignificant is my praying in the midst of a cosmic process! Unless it is the will of God that I pray, how ludicrous is it to pray.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 131

Friday, April 09, 2021

The real problem

The problem to my [philosophy] professors was how to be good. In my ears the question rang: How to be holy. At the time I realized that there is much that philosophy could learn from Jewish life. To the philosophers the idea of the good was the most exalted idea, the ultimate idea. To Judaism the idea of the good is penultimate. It cannot exist without the holy. The good is the base, the holy is the summit. Man cannot be good unless he strives to be holy.

To have an idea of the good is not the same as living by the insight, Blessed is the man who does not forget Thee.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 129

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Defining humanity

Prayer is not a need but an ontological necessity, an act that expresses the very essence of man. Prayer is for human beings, by virtue of our being human. He who has never prayed is not fully human. Ontology, not psychology or sociology, explains prayer.

The dignity of man consists not in his ability to make tools, machines, guns, but primarily in his being endowed with the gift of addressing God. It is this gift which should be a part of the definition of man.https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374524951 —Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 116 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

And yet more on prayer…

Decisive is not the mystic experience of our being close to Him; decisive is not our feeling but our certainty of His being close to us—although even His presence is veiled and beyond the scope of our emotion. Decisive is not our emotion but our conviction. If such conviction is lacking, if the presence of God is a myth, then prayer to God is a delusion. If God is unable to listen to us, then we are insane in talking to Him.

The true source of prayer, we said above, is not an emotion but an insight. It is the insight into the mystery of reality, the sense of the ineffable, that enables us to pray. As long as we refuse to take notice of what is beyond our sight, beyond our reason; as long as we are blind to the mystery of being, the way to prayer is closed to us. 110 (emphasis original)

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

More thoughts on prayer

If God is a what, a power, the sum total of values, how could we pray to it? An “I” does not pray to an “it.” Unless, therefore, God is at least as real as my own self; unless I am sure that God has at least as much life as I do, how could I pray?—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 109 (emphasis original)

Monday, April 05, 2021

Prayer? Essential for theology!

To live without prayer is to live without God, to live without a soul. No one is able to think of Him unless he has learned how to pray to Him. For this is the way man learns to think of the true God—of the God of Israel. He first is aware of His presence long before he thinks of His essence. And to pray is to sense His presence.

There are people who maintain that prayer is a matter of emotion. In their desire to “revitalize” prayer, they would proclaim: Let there be emotion! This is, of course, based on a fallacy. Emotion is an important component; it is not the source of prayer. The power to pray does notdepend on whether a person is of a choleric or phlegmatic temperament. One may be extrenely emotional and be unable to generate that power. This is decisive: worship comes out of insight. It is not the result of an intellectual oversight.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 108

Friday, April 02, 2021

Why pray?

If God does not have power to speak to us, how should we possess the power to speak to Him? Thus, prayer is a part of a greater issue. It depends upon the total spiritual situation of man and upon a mind within which God is at home. Of course, if our lives are too barren to bring forth the spirit of worship, if all our thoughts and anxieties do not contain enough spiritual substance to be distilled into prayer, an inner transformation is a matter of emergency. And such an emergency we face today. The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God. One cannot pray unless he has faith in his own ability to accost the infinite, merciful, eternal God.

...There is something which is far greater than my desire to pray, namely, God’s desire that I pray. There is something which is far greater than my will to believe, namely, God’s will that I believe. How insignificant is the outpouring of my soul in the midst of this great universe! Unless it is the will of God that I pray, unless God desires our prayer, how ludicrous is all my praying.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 107 (emphasis original)

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Who is your model?

Who is our model: Elijah, who disassociated himself from the congregations of his people, or the prophets of the Baal, who led and identified themselves with their people? The prophets of Israel were not eager to be in agreement with popular sentiments.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 104-5

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

We're misunderstanding the problem

Spiritual problems cannot be solved by administrative techniques.

The problem is not how to fill the buildings but how to inspire the hearts. And this is a problem to which techniques of child psychology can hardly be applied. The problem is not one of synagogue [church] attendance but one of spiritual attendance. The problem is not how to attract bodies to enter the space of a temple [church building] but how to inspire souls to enter an hour of spiritual concentration in the presence of God. The problem is time, not space.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 103 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
It's really simple, isn't it? And yet, extremely difficult. We are trying to use techniques for attracting crowds, but what we should be doing is going for depth, not numbers. Jesus didn't go out looking for crowds; they came to him because they saw something attractive—something they wanted. He even turned people away. When's the last time you heard of a church or parachurch organization turning down a person who had cash in their hand? Or who was a well-known personality?

I can count that on less than one finger. Heschel is right, as usual, our problem is a spiritual one, not an administrative one. And the answer has to be spiritual as well...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

That flashy preacher? Look at his knees!

There are many who labor in the vineyard of oratory; but who knows how to pray, or how to inspire others to pray? There are many who can execute and display magnificent fireworks; but who knows how to kindle a spark in the darkness of a soul?

Some of you may say, I am going too far! Of course, people still attend “services”—but what does this attendance mean to them? Outpouring of the soul? Worship? Prayer, synagogue [or church] attendance, has become a benefaction to the synagogue [or church], a service of the community rather than service of God, worship of the congregation rather than worship of God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 101

<idle musing>
Yep. It's just as true today as it was when he wrote it in the early 1950s. We like charismatic preachers. All the better if they tickle our ears. But if a Jeremiah or Ezekiel or Elijah stands up and says something, we fire them or ostracize them. We prefer profits over prophets. We want our ears tickled. We want prophets who prophesy abundance, more bread and wine. We don't want to hear the truth. We don't want to have to change our ways.

Nothing has changed about human nature. We just have fancier ways of expressing it. We still need to be born anew by the Holy Spirit.
</idle musing>

Monday, March 29, 2021

Does it help?

This is our problem: “We have eyes to see but see not; we have ears to hear but hear not.” There is God, and we do not understand Him; there is His word and we ignore it. This is the problem for us. Any other issue is relevant insofar as it helps us to meet that challenge.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 99

Friday, March 26, 2021

What we need

Let us never forget: If God is a symbol, He is a fiction. But if God is real, then He is able to express His will unambiguously. Symbols are makeshifts, necessary to those who cannot express themselves unambiguously.

There is darkness in the world and horror in the soul. What is it that the world needs most? Will man-made symbols redeem humanity? In the past, wars have been waged over differences in symbols rather than over differences in the love of God. Symbols, ceremonies are by their very nature particularistic. Symbols separate us, insights unite us. They unite us regardless of the different ways in which they are expressed. What we need is honesty, stillness, humility, obedience to the word of God. What we need is a new insight rather than new symbols.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 99 (emphasis original)

Thursday, March 25, 2021

'tis real

The uniqueness of the Bible is not in its symbolism. The religions of Egypt, Rome, India were rich in symbolism; what they lacked was not the symbol but the knowledge of the living God. The uniqueness of the Bible is in disclosing the will of God in plain words, in telling us of the presence of God in history rather than in symbolic signs or mythic events. The mysterious ladder which Jacob saw was a dream; the redemption of Israel from Egypt was an iron fact. The ladder was in the air, while Jacob’s head was on a stone.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 98 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

It's Metaphysical

Science does not know the world as it is; it knows the world in human terms. Scientific knowledge is symbolic knowledge. Trying to hold an interview with reality face to face, without the aid of human terms or symbols, we realize that what is intelligible to our mind is but a thin surface of the profoundly undisclosed.

The awareness of the unknown is earlier than the awareness of the known. Next to our mind are not names, words, symbols but the nameless, the inexpressible, being. It is otherness, remoteness upon which we come within all our experience.

Just as the simpleminded equates appearance with reality, so does the overwise equate the expressible with the ineffable, the symbolic with the metasymbolic.

The awareness of the ineffable, of the metasymbolic, is that with which our search must begin. Philosophy, enticed by the promise of the known, has often surrendered the treasures of higher incomprehension to poets and mystics, although without the sense of the ineffable there are no metaphysical problems, no awareness of being as being, of value as value.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 96

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

You've been had!

As background to this little post, I worked in distribution of audio and video for fifteen years. I also have been a marketer in book publishing for the last seventeen. So, I know of what I speak.

I've been following the Dr. Seuss thing a bit. When the Seuss people announced the discontinuing of the selected titles, my first thought was this: Oh, they must have been running low on stock and decided to make them OP (out of print). But, when a marketing person got wind of it, they thought, "Hey, this is a great opportunity to create some buzz!" Cancel culture is huge right now, as is sensitivity to racism. So, they score some points with the woke crowd by giving the inherent racism in an older title as a reason. Never mind that sales on these titles were slow and that it wasn't worthwhile to do a traditional print run. And it would give a nice bump to the sales of the nondiscontinued titles.

As I said to a former colleague, a brilliant, although unscrupulous marketing decision. Of course, marketing people with scruples are about as rare as a never-Trumper at a Trump event: Few and scorned as RINOs (MINOs—marketers in name only).

I let it go at that until this weekend when we went to a big-box store. We prefer to buy our groceries at a smaller store in walking distance, but there are some things that we can't get there, so about once a month we drive to the big box. We also needed some stuff at Menards. So, what do I see at Menards? A big shipper display of Dr. Seuss titles! And what do I see at the big box? At least one, maybe two (I can't remember for sure) shipper displays of Dr. Seuss titles! At both places, the titles were very picked over, which means they had been there for probably a week.

My distribution and marketing mind put two and two together, and I think I came up with four: This was a well-thought-out marketing plan. You don't put together as many shippers as they would have needed to supply the big box chain and Menards in less than a week! You have to make sure that you have the necessary stock, that there is enough cardboard, that the shippers are all assembled and skidded up. And probably in many of these cases, you can't ship direct to the store; you have to ship to the central warehouses for them to distribute them to the stores.

All that takes months of planning, going back to reprint some of the titles, getting the correct number and style of shippers, getting approval from the buyers at the various chains. Yes, this was a well-planned marketing blitz. I wouldn't be surprised if some enterprising employees bought out a good number of the soon-to-be-discontinued titles to sell at a handsome profit on e-bay and the likes!

Because, you see, as much as you might decry cancel culture, you fell right into the trap. If you really cared about Dr. Seuss being canceled, you would boycott the company doing the canceling. But you revealed what you really care about (and that the marketers at Dr. Seuss knew all along) was that your convenience was being infringed on.

So, my friend, if you purchased a Dr. Seuss book in the last two weeks, you were had. Owned. Played for the fool. You were played like an expensive violin for the benefit of profit.

Remember, with very few exceptions (Song of the South comes to mind), movies with blatant sexism and racism continue to be played and sold. All the studios did was slap a disclaimer on the front just before the movie. Dr. Seuss could have done the same. It would have been an excellent learning opportunity when you read the books to your kids and grandkids.

Instead, they went for the sure thing: Profit.

How very American!

P.S. I don't for a moment think Dr. Seuss was "canceled." Nor do I think free speech was infringed upon. It was a sales decision. Period. And would have been a nonissue if a marketer somewhere hadn't come up with this brilliant plan. Unethical, but brilliant. And I do indeed decry the racism and sexism of many older (and contemporary) titles. But I see it as an educational opportunity. You see, as a liberal arts person, I see the past as something to learn from. Learn from their blindness, yes, but more importantly, use them to shine a light on our blindness.

Just an
</idle musing>

It's the emptiness

No one eats figuratively, no one sleeps symbolically; so why should the pious man be content to worship God symbolically?

Those who are in the dark in their lonely search for God; those to whom God is a problem, or a Being that is eternally absent and silent; those who ask, “How does one know Him? Where can one find Him? How does one express Him?” will be forced to accept symbols as an answer.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 88

<idle musing>
Indeed! Nothing, and I mean nothing, substitutes for an encounter with the living God. And I don't mean a one-time encounter that you cherish and frame. I'm talking about a moment-by-moment breath-by-breath dependence on the living God.
</idle musing>

Monday, March 22, 2021

How free are you, really?

Identity and personhood are complex ideas that may have been quite different in the ancient past. Often, our contemporary inclination is to think of ourselves as individuals who operate with agency and intent, yet our actions, and consequently our various identities and personhood, are formed and directed as much by consciously and unconsciously inculcated social rules and norms as by freewill. Identity and personhood are relationally constructed, socially constrained.—His Good Name: Essays on Identity and Self-Presentation in Ancient Egypt in Honor of Ronald J. Leprohon, xix

What image?

The divine symbolism of man is not in what he has—such as reason or the power of speech—but in what he is potentially: he is able to be holy as God is holy. To imitate God, to act as He acts in mercy and love, is the way of enhancing our likeness. Man becomes what he worships. “Says the Holy One, blessed be He: He who acts like me shall be like me. ” Says Rabbi Levi ben Hama: “Idolators resemble their idols (Psalms 115:8); now how much more must the servants of the Lord resemble Him.

. . .

But man has failed. And what is the consequence? “I have placed the likeness of my image on them and through their sins I have upset it” is the dictum of God.”

The likeness is all but gone. Today, nothing is more remote and less plausible than the idea: man is a symbol of God. Man forgot whom he represents or that he represents.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 86–87 (emphasis original)

Friday, March 19, 2021

More on the image of God

As not one man or one particular nation but all men and all nations are endowed with the likeness of God, there is no danger of ever worshipping man, because only that which is extraordinary and different may become an object of worship. But the divine likeness is something all men share.

This is a conception of far-reaching importance to biblical piety. What it implies can hardly be summarized. Reverence for God is shown in our reverence for man. The fear you must feel of offending or hurting a human being must be as ultimate as your fear of God. An act of violence is an act of desecration. To be arrogant toward man is to be blasphemous toward God.

He who oppresses the poor blasphemes his Maker,
He who is gracious to the needy honors Him. —Proverbs 14:31
“You must not say, since I have been put to shame, let my neighbor be put to shame ... If you do so, know whom you put to shame, for in the likeness of God made he him." Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: “A precession of angels pass before man wherever he goes, proclaiming: Make way for the image (eikonion) of God.”—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 85

<idle musing>
And that is a very good reason to be against the death penalty! Further, it is the reason that racism and sexism are so repugnant to God. All are made in the image of God, male and female, every race and nationality. All are to proclaim the wonders and glories of God together. Lord, haste the day when that is true!
</idle musing>

Thursday, March 18, 2021

In the image and likeness of…

And yet there is something in the world that the Bible does regard as a symbol of God. It is not a temple or a tree, it is not a statue or a star. The one symbol of God is man, every man. God Himself created man in His image, or, to use the biblical terms, in His tselem and demuth. How significant is the fact that the term tselem, which is frequently used in a damnatory sense for a man—made image of God, as well as the term demuth—of which Isaiah claims (4o:18) no demuth can be applied to God—are employed in denoting man as an image and likeness of God!

Human life is holy, holier even than the Scrolls of the Torah. Its holiness is not man’s achievement; it is a gift of God rather than something attained through merit. Man must therefore be treated with the honor due to a likeness representing the King of Kings.

Not that the Bible was unaware of man's frailty and wickedness. The divine in man is not by virtue of what he does but by virtue of what he is. With supreme frankness the failures and shortcomings of kings and prophets, of men such as Moses or David, are recorded. And yet Jewish tradition insisted that not only man’s soul but also his body are symbolic of God. This is why even the body of a criminal condemned to death must be treated with reverence, according to the Book of Deuteronomy (2 1:23). He who sheds the blood of a human being, “it is accounted to him as though be diminished [or destroyed] the divine image.”—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 84–85

<idle musing>
He keeps going, but that's enough for today. This section reminds me of the C.S. Lewis essay/sermon entitled "The Weight of Glory," which also gave it's title to the book, Weight of Glory (the other essays are well-worth your time, too).

We are all image-bearers of God. Whatever happened in Gen 3 didn't erase that image. It might have defaced it, making us "cracked eikons," as Scot McKnight puts it, but it didn't erase that image. Remember that as you face what you think are your enemies. Remember that when you are tempted to hurl insults at others. They, too, are images of their (and your) creator!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Just a bit of leavening…

One can serve God with the body, even with one’s passions; one must only be able to distinguish between the dross and the gold. This world acquires flavor only when a little of the other world is mingled with it. Without nobility of the spirit, the flesh is full of darkness.https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374524951 —Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 76

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Chaos, waiting at the doors

One of the lessons we have derived from the events of our time is that we cannot dwell at ease under the sun of our civilization, that man is the least harmless of all beings. We feel how every minute in our civilization is packed with tension like the interlude between lightning and thunder. Man has not advanced very far from the coast of chaos. It took only one storm to throw him back into the sinister. If culture is to survive, it is in need of defenses all along the shore. A frantic call to chaos shrieks in our blood. Many of us are too susceptible to it to ignore it forever. Where is the power that could offset the effect of that alluring call? How are we going to keep the demonic forces under control?

This is the decision which we have to make: whether our life is to be a pursuit of pleasure or an engagement for service. The world cannot remain a vacuum. Unless we make it an altar to God, it is invaded by demons. This is no time for neutrality. We … cannot remain aloof or indifferent. We … are either ministers of the sacred or slaves of evil. The only safeguard against constant danger is constant vigilance, constant guidance. Such guidance is given to him who lives in the reality of Israel. It is a system in which human relations rest upon two basic ideas: the idea of human rights and the idea of human obligations.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 75

Monday, March 15, 2021

The spoken word

Many of us detest the idea of holiness and consider it to be a waste of time, a meaningless concept, the invention of primitive man, notwithstanding the fact that this concept is rooted in the heart of every cultured person. Everyone knows the power of the spoken word. What really happens when a person opens his mouth and promises something? Superficially, only sounds emanate from vocal cords, and the lips are merely moving. So what of it? Why do we assume that loyalty to one’s word is the basis of all human relationships? The promise that was given, the contract that is made——is sacred, and one who desecrates it destroys the foundation upon which all of communal life is established. Until the moment I speak, the choice is mine, but once the words have left my mouth, I may not rescind or desecrate them. Willingly or unwillingly, the word spoken by me controls me. It becomes a sacred power which has dominion over me, lurking at my door and compelling my compliance. 61

Friday, March 12, 2021

Partnering together

We are partners with God, partners in everyday actions. We do not walk alone. We are not solitary in our toils or forsaken in our efiforts. The smallest one is a microcosm of the Greatest One. A reciprocal relationship binds each lowly one with the One on High.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 60

Thursday, March 11, 2021

How to judge value

All values are esteemed only to the extent that they are worthy in the sight of God, for only through the Divine Light is their light seen. Treasures of the world, though they be marked by beauty and charm, when they diminish the image of the divine will not endure. Fortunate is the person who sees with eyes and heart together. Fortunate is the person who is not entranced by the grand facade or repulsed by the appearance of misery. This is the mark of the spiritual personality; chic clothes, smiling faces, and artistic wonders which are filled with evil and injustice do not entrance him. Architectural wonders and monumental temples, which seem to testify to glory and honor, power and strength, are loathsome to him if they were built with the sweat of slaves and the tears of the oppressed, if they were raised with wrongdoing and deceit. Hypocrisy which parades under the veil of righteousness is worse to him then obvious wrongdoing. In his heart any religious rite for which the truth must be sacrificed is revolting. Deeds … are for the purpose of coupling the beautiful and the good, for the sake of the unification of grace and splendor. The criterion by which we judge beauty is integrity, the criterion by which we judge integrity is truth, and truth is the correspondence of the finite to the infinite, the specific to the general, the cosmos to God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 59

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The measure of a person (or society)

How does one measure dominion, beauty wealth, power? The soul of every human being possesses within it the tendency to value those things that it likes, and to bow down to that which appears to be valuable. This is a test that everyone passes. How easy it is to be attracted by outward beauty, and how hard it is to remove the mask and penetrate to that which is inside. If a Greek poet, for example, had arrived at Samaria, the capital of the Kingdom of Israel, he would have been surprised and overcome with emotion; he would have praised and lauded in verse the idols, the beautiful temples and palaces which the kings of Israel and their ministers had built. But the prophet Amos, after visiting Samaria, did not sing, nor did he bow to the glory of the ivory buildings. When he looked at the buildings of carved stone, at the ivory temples and the beautiful orchards, he saw in them the oppression of the poor, robbery and plunder. External magnificence neither entranced him nor led him astray. His whole being cried out in the name of the Lord: “I loathe the pride of Jacob, and I detest his palaces." Could it be that the prophet Amos’s heart—the purest of that generation—was not captivated and did not tremble before beauty? Was the prophet Amos lacking all feeling and appreciation for beauty?

When the annual congress of the Nazi Party convened in Nuremberg in 1937, journalists from all over the world, such as The Times of London, described with enthusiasm the demonstrations of the various Nazi organizations. They could not find enough adjectives to praise the physical beauty, the order, the discipline, and the athletic perfection of the tens of thousands of young Nazis who marched ceremoniously and festively before the leader of the “movement.” These writers who were so excited by the exterior splendor lacked the ability to see the snakes in the form of humans—the poison that coursed through their veins, which not long after would bring death to millions of people.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 58-59

<idle musing>
Not a whole lot has changed in the last 85 years, has it? We still bow before the gods we've created, be they silicon or flesh. We embrace the lies and become zealous to route the enemy, which unfortunately, is all too often a neighbor or family member.

Even if we happen to be right, which is usually not the case!, we have no right to seek vengeance. As scripture says, "Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord." Note that, it isn't ours. It is his. We, on the other hand, are called to pray for our enemies. And I don't mean praying an imprecatory psalm over them the way so many did over Obama. I mean a heartfelt concern for their spiritual and physical well-being.

And that just might mean doing something for them, too. Scary thought, isn't it? God might be calling you to embrace that person who disagrees with you! OK, scratch that, not he might be—he is callling you to embrace them.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

The siren call

The satan of publicity dances at the crossroads, moving with full strength. Who is the wise man who has not gone out after him, following his drums and dances? We tend to lick the dust of his feet in order to gain fame. In truth, the soul has only that which is hidden in its world, that which is sealed in its treasure houses. The quality of a person is internal. He does not live by what his mouth says but by the secret. The honor of a person is a secret. —Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 56

<idle musing>
Remember satan in Hebrew means "temptor"—and who hasn't heard the siren call of publicity in our fame-hungry world? This quotation follows-up on yesterday's, on the secret life.

True wisdom is cultivated out of the public eye, which is difficult to do in our media-saturated world. Taking the time to actually think is frowned upon. The fear of missing out is a very real thing. Who wants to be embarassed when someone mentions some little tidbit from the latest gossip or news mill and you don't have a clue what they are talking about? But that stuff is just hebel and shwa, vapor and nothingness, it passes away and what are you left with?

This pandemic and its associated lockdowns gave us a chance to be alone and cultivate inner strength. Instead far too many either used it to protest the imposition on their rights or to binge-watch whatever their favorite shows were.

As image-bearers, we should know better. We do know better. But that's too much work, isn't it? Binge-watching or binge-whining is far easier—and initially more rewarding. But, just like the scroll that John eats in Revelation, it turns sour in the stomach.
</idle musing>

Monday, March 08, 2021

True nobility

What is the meaning of nobility? A person possessing nobility is one whose hidden wealth surpasses his outward wealth, whose hidden treasures exceed his obvious treasures, whose inner depth surpasses by far that which he reveals. Refinement is found only where inwardness is greater than outward appearance. The hidden is greater than the obvious, depth greater than breadth. Nobility is the redeemed quality which rises within the soul when it exchanges the transient for the permanent, the useful for the valuable.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 56

<idle musing>
Indeed! And a rare thing to find now, isn't it? What with all the social media apps, it's rare to find someone who doesn't "let it all hang out" as we used to say many years ago. And, unfortunately, what "hangs out" is far too often less than noble : (

</idle musing>

Friday, March 05, 2021

Thorn in the flesh?

Our historical experience has taught us that our existence as Jews is not in the category of things which neither help nor hurt. The opposite is true: to be a Jew is either superfluous or essential. Anyone who adds Judaism to humanity is either diminishing or improving it. Being a Jew is either tyranny or holiness. Moreover, the life of a Jew requires focus and direction, and cannot be carried out offhandedly. One who thinks that one can live as a Jew in a lackadaisical manner has never tasted Judaism.

The very existence of a Jew is a spiritual act. The fact that we have survived, despite the suffering and persecution, is itself a sanctification of God’s name. We continue to exist, in spite of the scorn of the complacent, the torrents of hatred, and the dangers that constantly lie in wait for us. We always have had the option to solve the “Jewish Question” through conversion, and had we stopped being Jews, we would not have continued as thorns in everyone’s flesh, and we would not have remained an object of scorn. As individuals we would have tasted a life of serenity and security. After all, the Jew is an expert at adaptation and assimilation, and it would not be too much for him to mix with the nations, without their taking note of his joining them. Nevertheless, generation upon generation have withstood the test of their faith. Many blows could not douse the flame. With dedication we guard the fire, the truth, and the wonder.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 55

<idle musing>
Change "Jew" to "Christian" and I wonder how true it would be? It should be true...but is it?
</idle musing>

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Created equal?

The most urgent task is to destroy the myth that accumulation of wealth and the achievement of comfort are the chief vocations of man. How can adjustment to society be an inspiration to our youth if that society persists in squandering the material resources of the world on luxuries in a world where more than a billion people go to bed hungry every night? How can we speak of reverence for man and of the belief that all men are created equal without repenting the way we promote the vulgarization of existence?—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 31

<idle musing>
How much truer this is today than it was in the 1950s when he penned it!

Lord, have mercy on us and awaken us to the hypocrisy of our ways!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Aim high!

The cure of the soul begins with a sense of embarrassment, embarrassment at our pettiness, prejudices, envy, and conceit; embarrassment at the profanation of life. A world that is full of grandeur has been converted into a carnival.

Man is too great to be fed upon uninspiring pedestrian ideals. We have adjusted ideals to our stature, instead of attempting to rise to the level of ideals. The ceiling of aspiration is too low: a car, color television, and life insurance. Modern man has royal power and plebeian ideals.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 31 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Indeed. Adjust the expectations from 1950 to 2020, but other than that, it's about right. We've set our ideals on material things and aiming low, we hit a target even lower. God has greater things in mind for those who bear his image!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

What's the problem?

I do not believe that repression is America’s major problem, as some writers maintain. America’s problem number one is the self-profanation of man, the perversion of the eighteenth-century conception of the pursuit of happiness, the loss of reverence, the liquidation of enthusiasm for the attainment of transcendent goals.

Our conception of happiness is based on an oversimplification of man. Happiness is not a synonym for self-satisfaction, complacency, or smugness.&tninsp;. . . Man’s true fulfillment depends upon communion with that which transcends him.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 30–31 (emphasis original)

Monday, March 01, 2021

Ummm...really?

I only have one comment on the golden Trump at CPAC. Everyone seems to be relating it to the golden calf in Exodus. Personally, I think Daniel 3 is a better analogy. My response? The same a Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego:
Know this for certain, Your Majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you’ve set up. (Dan 3:18 CEB)
That is all.

Perfect diagnosis

It is our duty to do our utmost in restoring physical health, but it is sinful to ignore the most essential requirement of being a person: the sense of significant being. Our community’s need of thought, understanding, intellectual expansion is profound and urgent. If not satisfied, we will all be bankrupt.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 28

<idle musing>
Yep. He diagnosed the current malaise of christianity in the US perfectly (even though he was talking about Judaism). And not just christianity, but the culture in general. While we are (sort of) fighting this pandemic, what of our intellectual and spiritual wasteland? Material goods don't give meaning to life!

The pulpits and the talking-heads in christianity are offering up a Trumpism that will never feed the soul with anything other than lies. We slice the budgets to universities, hiring only adjuncts. We expect public schools to function when we only offer them a reluctant slice of cash and then complain that the teachers are whiners and don't really want to teach when they are legitimately concerned for their (and their students') health.

Yep. Heschel was correct in his diagnosis.
</idle musing>

Friday, February 26, 2021

Prophetic Words

We all pay heavily for earlier disregard of the power of evil, of the essentially unredeemed nature of society, of the dangerous tensions of being human. I was unprepared for the shock of the sudden realization that progress is not automatic, that it may involve climbing a ladder of absurdities. Modern man’s discovery of the fundamental aloneness and solitude in a universe indifferent to his fate is due to an expectation that it was in the universe where care for what is ultimately precious was to be found. He now suffers from the collapse of naive self—deception and oversimplification.

Our era marks the end of simplification, the end of personal exclusiveness, the end of self-defense through aloofness, the end of a sense of security. We find ourselves in a situation in which the distinction between the affluent and the indigent, between the successful and the shlemiels, is becoming obsolete. In the realm of character, in the depth of the soul, in groping for a way out of a creeping sense of futility, in moments of being alone and taking account of our lives, we are all indigent and in need of assistance.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 22

<idle musing>
Indeed! How much truer today, after enduring four years of unrelenting lies, the even now are being repeated and amplified? Progress is never simple and automatic, as anyone who has studied history can tell you. And what we consider progress today isn't necessarily progress at all. We need the discernment that can only come from the Holy Spirit. May we be up to the task!
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 25, 2021

It's hard work!

Most people think only once in their lives, usually when they are at college. After that their minds are made up, and their decisions, utterances are endless repetitions of views that have in the meantime become obsolete, outworn, unsound. This applies to politics, scholarship, the arts as well as to social service. Views,’ just as leaves, are bound to wither, because the world is in flux. But so many of us would rather be faithful to outworn views than to undergo the strain of reexamination and revision. Indeed, intellectual senility sets in long before physical infirmity. A human being must be valued by how many times he was able to see the world from a new perspective.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 20

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A short summary of history

To the discerning eye the incidents recorded in the Bible are episodes of one great drama: the quest of God for man, His search of man, and man's flight from Him.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 16

Thought for the day

12 The LORD proclaims:
Begin each morning by administering justice,
    rescue from their oppressor
        those who have been robbed,
    or else my anger will spread like a wildfire,
        with no one to put it out,
        because of your evil deeds.
13 I am against you,
    you who live in the valley,
        like a rock of the plain,
            declares the LORD,
    and who say, “Who will come down to attack us?
        Who will breach our fortresses?”
14 I will punish you based on what you have done,
    declares the LORD.
I will set your forests on fire;
    the flames will engulf
        everything around you.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Blind chance?

The claim of the Bible is absurd, unless we are ready to comprehend that the world as scrutinized and depicted by science is but a thin surface of undisclosed depths. Order is only one of the aspects of nature; its reality is a mystery given but not known. Countless relations that determine our life in history are neither known nor predictable. What history does with the laws of nature cannot be expressed by a law of nature.

Among many difficulties is this: There would have to be a leak, a flaw in the perfect mechanism of mind and matter to let the spirit of God penetrate its structure. To assume that the world for all its immense grandeur is a tiny cymbal in the hand of God, on which at certain times only one soul vibrates though all are struck; in other words, to assume that the entire complex of natural laws is transcended by the freedom of God would presuppose the metaphysical understanding that the laws of nature are derived not from a blind necessity but from freedom, that the ultimate is not fate but God. Revelation is not an act of interfering with the normal course of natural events but the act of instilling a new creative moment into the course of natural events.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 14

Monday, February 22, 2021

Thought for the day

 13 I replied, “Lord God, the prophets are telling them: ‘You won’t see war or famine, for I will give you lasting peace in this place.’”

14 Then the Lord said to me: The prophets are telling lies in my name. I haven’t sent them. I haven’t commanded them. I haven’t spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, worthless predictions, and deceit they have made up on their own. 15 Therefore, this is what the Lord proclaims concerning the prophets who are speaking in my name when I didn’t send them, and who are telling you that war or famine will never come to this land: Those very prophets will die in war and by famine! 16 And the people they are prophesying to will be thrown into the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and war. There will be no one to bury them or their wives and children. I will pour out on them their own wickedness. (Jer 14:13–16 CEB)

<idle musing>
Let those who have ears to hear, hear!
</idle musing>

An active and living God

The God of the philosopher is a concept derived from abstract ideas; the God of the prophets is derived from acts and events. The root of Jewish faith is, therefore, not a comprehension of abstract principles but an inner attachment to those events; to believe is to remember, not merely to accept the truth of a set of dogmas.... To ignore these events and to pay attention only to what Israel was taught in these events is like tearing out a piece of flesh from a living body.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 12–13

Friday, February 19, 2021

Hope for the world

Indeed, life appears dismal if not mirrored in what is more than life. Nothing can be regarded as valuable unless assessed by something higher in value than itself. Our survival depends upon the conviction that there is something that is worth the price of life. Our survival depends upon a sense of the supremacy of what is lasting. That sense or conviction may be asleep, but it awakens when challenged. In some people it lives as a sporadic wish; in others it is a permanent concern.

What I have learned from Jewish life is that if a man is not more than human, then he is less than human. Judaism is an attempt to prove that in order to be a man, you have to be more than a man; that in order to be a people, we have to be more than a people. Israel was made to be a “holy people.” This is the essence of its dignity and the essence of its merit. Judaism is a link to eternity, kinship with ultimate reality.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 6–7

<idle musing>
If that is true of Judaism (and I'm sure it is), then it is even truer of Christianity. Would that those of us who call ourselves "Christians" would live like we believe it!

And that is truly possible by the power of the Holy Spirit!
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Sound familiar?

One of the maladies of our time is shattered confidence in human nature. We are inclined to believe that the world is a pandemonium, that there is no sense in virtue, no import to integrity; that we only graft goodness upon selfishness, and relish self—indulgence in all values; that we cannot but violate truth with evasion. Honesty is held to be wishful thinking, purity the squaring of the circle of human nature. The hysteria of suspicion has made us unreliable to ourselves, trusting neither our aspirations nor our convictions. Suspiciousness, not skepticism, is the beginning of our thinking.

This sneering doctrine holds many of us in its spell. It has profoundly affected the character and life of modern man. The man of today shrinks from the light. He is afraid to think as he feels, afraid to admit what he believes, afraid to love what he admires. Going astray he blames others for his failure and decides to be more evasive, smooth—tongued, and deceitful. Living in fear he thinks that the ambush is the normal dwelling place of all men. He has failed to pick up in his youth the clue of the unbroken thread of truthfulness that would guide him through the labyrinth.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 6

<idle musing>
Remember, this was written in 1951! It could have been written yesterday. Watch for his solution tomorrow...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The wrong prescription

It is absurd to assume that we can heal our shattered souls by outlawing aggressive thinking, that we can revive our suppressed faith by substituting frantic nostalgia for sober conviction or worship of rituals for walking with God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 6

<idle musing>
Truer now than when he first penned it in 1951! His was truly a prophetic voice from which we can still learn much.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

It's even colder!

Yesterday was cold. I looked at the temperature at 8:00 AM and it was -20ºF. Then, at 8:30 last night, I checked the weather. Here's what I saw:

It's kind of scary when a prediction of 9ºF is considered "much warmer" out! But, it wasn't as bad as they said. I checked at 8:00 AM this morning, and it was only -18ºF! Heat wave!

Imago Dei

If we are created in the image of God, each human being should be a reminder of God’s presence. If we engage in acts of violence and murder, we are desecrating the divine likeness.—Susannah Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, xxv

Monday, February 15, 2021

A cross perspective

Even though the cross is essential to the development of true spirituality, it does not hang over the life of Jesus and should never cast a pall over the life of His followers. Joy will always be the predominant spirit of Jesus’ approach to our life with God. Jesus was above all else a happy person, and a person remarkably free, free from the grip of material things, free from unhealthy attachments to people, free from obsessive hang-ups and neurotic needs. It is a pleasure to watch Him move so easily through life, even with His knowing the troubles that were always impending. He never allowed Himself to be obsessed with worry or with a sense of doom. Problems He handed over to His Father, as if that was His business. He just did what He knew He had to do each day. In living this way He was able to manifest a remarkable detachment and continually radiate a spirit of joy.— Never Alone, 111–12

<idle musing> And so ends this little book. Tomorrow we'll start going through Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, by Abraham Joshua Heschel.
</idle musing>

Friday, February 12, 2021

Peace, the gift of God

Once Jesus establishes His place in our souls, the first gift He shares is peace. That is why forgiveness is important to Him, it preserves our peace. Inner peace is the fertile soil in which our spiritual garden can grow. Where there is turmoil it is almost impossible to develop an inner life. There is just no room for the thought or reflection which is essential for the development of a spiritual life. Jesus talks to us in the peacefulness of our souls.— Never Alone, 96–97

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Baby, it's cold outside

Just checked the temperature, and it's -4ºF. But that's not what was the worst. Check out the screen shot. Tomorrow is supposed to be "much cooler" than today!

Be Perfect! But in what way?

He then tells them to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect. The perfection He is referring to here is not perfection in the keeping of laws, but to what is mentioned just before, perfection in expressing genuine love even of your enemies. God’s perfection is not about the keeping of commandments, it is about the expression of His ineffable love. Love is the definition of God. It is His essence. It is What makes God God. So, in enjoining us to be perfect like His Father, Jesus is challenging us to love as completely and as unselfishly as His Father, particularly with the unrelenting forgiveness of His Father’s love.— Never Alone, 93–94

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Practical Holiness

Spirituality is not developed in a vacuum. All of our lives are intertwined and closely tied up with one another. God does not create us to live in isolation. He created each of us incomplete, so we would need one another, so we could help one another, so we could reach out and touch one another’s lives. Holiness is growth in godliness, and God is not self—centered. He is a giving God, always sharing the immensity of His infinite goodness with His creatures. Our holiness, then, is authentic when it is reaching out to others, sharing with others what God has poured so lavishly into our own lives. Though He works with each of us personally, molding in us His own inner life, He channels through ourselves and others what we all need for our survival and our growth, so we become the woof and warp of life’s tapestry. The real work of our spiritual life lies essentially in what subconsciously takes place beneath the surface of our daily life, as God uses events and circumstances as well as people to alter our thought patterns, clarify our vision, reset the direction of our life, and realign our personality to harmonize with Jesus’ own inner life.— Never Alone, 79–80

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Es macht nichts!

There are sins a lot less honorable than prostitution, but we do not penalize their perpetrators. Take an upstanding judge who mercilessly sentences to ten or twenty years a poor black who cannot pull strings to plea bargain, when he would give perhaps only a suspended sentence to a middle-class white person with connections in the exact same circumstances. In the eyes of God that kind of sin is heinous compared to prostitution, but the judge will still be highly respected in the community, while the prostitute will be looked upon with contempt. The remarkable thing about God is that He will still take the judge as He is and see goodness in him as well, and will work to transform his life into something ultimately God-like. 84

Monday, February 08, 2021

An easier way

We have to get past a preoccupation with our sins. The thrust of our spiritual life should not be sin- oriented or Satan-oriented. It should be God-oriented. We should concentrate on developing a personal relationship With God, and through openness in our prayer lives, let God into our lives so He can guide us. As we get to know Him we cannot help but fall in love With Him. The intimacy and warmth of that relationship will deepen our insights and understanding and will help us outgrow our sinful tendencies, one by one. As an example, before we met God we may have been envious of the success and accomplishments of others, eating our hearts out because we could not have the same good fortune that they had. Now that we have met God and know how special we are to Him and that He has a very special work for us that nobody else can accomplish, our lives are given a meaning and a value that takes all the envy out of our hearts. We could not care less what someone else has. We now know we are special and are important to God. The same thing happens with our other vices. One by one we outgrow them, and in outgrowing them we get rid of them. That is a psychologically healthy way to attack our weaknesses and our limitations, by getting rid of the underlying problems which cause the sins.— Never Alone, 71

Friday, February 05, 2021

Thought for the day

15 Everyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that murderers don’t have eternal life residing in them. 16 This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 But if someone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but refuses to help—how can the love of God dwell in a person like that?

18 Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 1 John 3:15–18 (CEB)

<idle musing>
Let those who have ears to hear, hear!

I've been seeing a lot of activity by so-called christians of late that certainly doesn't meet the criteria of those verses.

'Nuff said.
</idle musing>

Self-centered spirituality

Concentrating on self-perfection and rooting out sin can become an almost total absorption, and can develop into a very self-centered spirituality. This was the spirituality of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus criticized so vehemently, a spirituality that deteriorated into an obsessive pursuit of self-perfection, and self-adoration rather than a life of self-forgetting love that flowed spontaneously from a deep relationship with God. That is the kind of spirituality Jesus was trying to instill in people’s hearts. And that is the path we should travel. 69

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Transformation!

Besides reading, prayer is essential. Our relationship with God grows from our constant awareness of His presence in our lives. At first it is difficult to think of Him. But as His presence becomes more real, our sense of His nearness blossoms into an intimate communing with Him in a beautiful kind of prayer. It may be a monologue, or it may be perceived as a kind of dialogue. In prayer God works on our attitudes. He alters our vision, our understanding of life. Over a period of time spent communing with God, we will notice our attitudes changing toward everything. We think differently about God. We think differently about material things. We think differently about ourselves and others. We think differently about rich people and poor people. We see God’s creation and everything in it as sacred. Given the time God will eventually transform our whole life. He does this so subtly we do not even know it. Others see it and might on occasion make the remark, “What a beautiful person you have become!” and the remarkable thing is that you do not even know what they are talking about, because God has accomplished this so quietly that you were totally unaware of what was happening. This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me.”— Never Alone, 63–64

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

The problem of "self-sufficiency"

The more practical and independent we are the more difficult it is to be reliant on God. We are so used to analyzing situations and working out solutions to problems that to abandon ourselves to God and be open to His grace seems almost like a cop-out and shirking responsibility. Many people find it near impossible to understand. Yet, it is necessary if we are to develop a partnership with God, and that is what spirituality essentially is. We can do nothing without God because He has the key to the complex mystery of our lives, but He also needs us to fulfill His own plans for the development of His creation, which by His intention is imperfect and incomplete. It is our function to help perfect His creation. He will not, however, violate our free will and force us to work with Him, even though He needs our cooperation to accomplish His goals in the world.— Never Alone, 44–45

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Tozer for Tuesday

An important aspect of intentional Christian living is purity. This purity is the absence of additives. The evangelical Church has become most ingenious in this area of additives. We have so encumbered the Christian life that the average Christian is weighed down with such religious trappings they never get around to living the life Christ designed for them. Purity of life is a life free from additives. The intentional Christian life is not diluted with elements of culture or religion. The purity of our life is simply the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. No other level of purity will be accepted. As I intentionally live the Christian life, I am focused on His purity, and He is living His life through me unencumbered by other things or interests.—A.W. Tozer, The Dangers of a Shallow Faith, 210

<idle musing>
So much of what passes for "purity" in the Christian world is anything but! Tozer pegs it here, or in the words of a chorus that used to be popular:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
That is purity. That is holiness. Christ living his life through you. Or, as 2 Peter 1 puts it, "3 By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory. 4 Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces." (CEB)

Or, as some translations put it, "partakers in the divine nature." That's a pretty big promise!
</idle musing>

Let go!

We are so used to being in control. We are brought up to be independent, self-reliant; “to be responsible” we call it. It is not easy to abandon that control and let God into our lives, much less submit to His control. But it is the only way we can function successfully, and indeed survive. It is even more difficult for parents to turn over to God control of their children’s lives. Parents often feel the only way they can protect their children is to control and direct their every move. When a child’s life gets completely out of control, an overly protective parent can fall apart. They are so afraid their child is on the road to destruction. Yet, to turn the child over to God is the only way to really help the child, who may after all be twenty-five, thirty, or many years older.— Never Alone, 43

Monday, February 01, 2021

It all has a purpose

You see the same thing in the lives of so many people who have had profound influence on others’ lives. What made them great was not an accident. It was the years of painful preparation and training as God steeled their souls for the future. They were scorched and burned and tried by fire and pain as God worked secretly in the depths of their souls sharpening their vision of life and focusing their wisdom and understanding for the work they were to do.— Never Alone, 37

<idle musing>
I was reading 1 Peter this morning. He has a lot to say about that. But it seems that christianity in the US has forgotten that part of the gospel, doesn't it? Or version of christianity is nothing but a vending machine god. And when he doesn't give us what we want, we do what you do with all machines that don't work: You kick it. If that doesn't work, you kick it harder. And if that doesn't work, you throw it away and find a new one...
</idle musing>

Friday, January 29, 2021

On letting go

So, from personal experience, I can see in a powerful way the value of detaching ourselves from our personal needs and ambitions and placing ourselves in God’s hands so He can guide us. It works.

Some might object that this approach detracts from the self-reliance we should have, and places us at the mercy of uncontrollable forces in our lives. That might be true if there were no God who cares. That would be blind abandonment to irrational forces. Our whole approach to spirituality, however, is based on the premise that there is a God, and that He is a God who cares. Now that I am older I can see the orderly way God works in people’s lives. Our early years, while they may seem rife with turmoil and pain and so many loose ends, when viewed from the distance of later life and our personal development, we can see as being the foundation and the training process for the rewarding work God has planned for our future. I don’t mean the job we may have for our subsistence. I mean the thrust of our personal life with all its encounters and relationships and the various ways we affect people as well as the influence we have on the world around us in our family and in our social as well as our business life.—Never Alone, 35–36

Thursday, January 28, 2021

A genie in a bottle?

People get frustrated with prayer because they are looking for an instant response and when it doesn’t happen, they get discouraged. It is as if God should be like a genie, rub the lamp and get immediate action. God does not work that Way. He is not a God of quick fixes. He is a very patient God who heals gently and thoroughly.— Never Alone, 31

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Scared?

Many people are afraid of giving themselves to God, and letting God into their lives, because they think all their fun will come to an end and life will become a bore. There is one thing God is not, though, and that is boring. The creative imagination of God is beyond comprehension, and the real fun in our lives just begins once we find God and He becomes an active partner in our lives. My own life became a whirlwind when I made up my mind that I was not going to forge my own way through life but instead would let God guide me. And it makes good sense. God didn’t create us haphazardly. He made each of us for a purpose and He is determined that we accomplish that purpose. He does, however, need our cooperation, and when we give Him our goodwill and open our hearts to Him (which is really all we have to offer), He sets in motion all the machinery we need to fulfill the task He has planned for us. That is always exciting and rewarding, because the gifts and talents He has given us are perfectly adapted to the work He has designed for us. That is the perfect blueprint for success, happiness, and fulfillment.— Never Alone, 26–27

Thought for the day

Your prophets gave you worthless and empty visions.
They didn’t reveal your sin so as to prevent your captivity.
Instead, they showed you worthless and incorrect prophecies.
Lamentations 2:14 (CEB)

<idle musing>
Let those who have ears to hear, hear!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Tozer for a Tuesday

Much is being said of faith these days that is not the focus of the Scriptures. We must shun all ways contrary to Scripture. Faith is not the key to get you What you want. Faith is not some magical formula that no matter who uses it, saved or unsaved, God has to act upon it. Such is religious lunacy and borders on witchcraft. I firmly believe that true faith rises in the soul of the man or woman who will fall on his face before an open Bible and allow God to be God in his life.—A.W. Tozer, The Dangers of a Shallow Faith, 209

The core

This is the essence of Christian spirituality, the living presence of Jesus in our souls. He is there, not as a dummy, neither hearing nor speaking, but as an active partner in our lives, guiding and comforting us when we need Him. It is this mystical friendship with Jesus that is the core of Christian spirituality, and makes Christian spirituality a unique custom-designed journey fashioned after the uniqueness of each individual person.— Never Alone, 25

Monday, January 25, 2021

Peace, peace, but there is no peace!

If there was one thing Jesus held out to his followers it was His promise of peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.” He never tired of speaking about the peace that He would give to those who accepted His way of life. This theme threads its way through the whole Gospel message. It is a trademark of His spirituality, and should be a trait that singles out His disciples, in whatever age they live.

Why, then, we might wonder, do Jesus’ followers not stand out for their peacefulness? The answer is simple. His disciples through all time are not familiar with the message as Jesus delivered it. We are brought up to follow unquestioningly the practices of our religion, whatever our denomination. But obedience to customs and dictates of religion does not make a follower of Jesus. Though many talk about accepting the Lord Jesus and about commitment to Him, frequently that acceptance has little to do with Jesus Himself. It is acceptance of the teacher who has delivered the message and the way of life laid out by the teacher that people follow. It is not the message of Jesus that is being followed, but the guidance and interpretation of the teacher. He or she becomes the way of life. This is not an immediate personal relationship with Jesus.— Never Alone, 24

Friday, January 22, 2021

Fear not, little flock!

That is the beginning of spirituality, recognizing the need for God in our lives, and placing ourselves in His hands with complete trust, confident of the tenderness of our Father’s love for us. We may have a difficulty with this, because all of us are only too conscious of our many failings and feel we do not have a right to God’s kindness toward us. But that is precisely what makes God’s love so beautiful. It does not spring from the goodness He sees in us, but from the overflowing goodness of His own love and the compassion He has for us in our weakness and sinfulness. The crowd Jesus addressed on that occasion when He spoke of the birds of the air were just ordinary people, sinners like ourselves, if you want to call them that, although Jesus didn’t call them sinners. Jesus called people God’s children and “little flock.” It is touching the tender way Jesus spoke to the crowd that day assuring them of His Father’s concern, even though He was only too aware of the serious moral defects in their lives. So, when we begin our adventure with God, it is with the assurance that He is open to us and kindly disposed toward us. We do not approach Him as a nuisance. In spite of our past lives and frightful weaknesses, He is glad we are turning to Him. Like the prodigal father of the prodigal son, He greets us with open arms, and is only too ready to share with us His friendship and His boundless mercy. All is forgiven, all is renewed. Though our sins be as scarlet, He will cleanse us and make us white as snow, through a baptism if necessary, or through a reawakening of the baptismal life we have already received, and a healing reconciliation.— Never Alone, 15–16

Thursday, January 21, 2021

You're trying too hard!

The mistake many people make when they start trying to be holy is they multiply religious practices and burden themselves with a host of activities, attending endless religious services, thinking that the more good things they do, the more spiritual they become. Spirituality doesn’t work that way. The spiritual life is something that grows slowly, imperceptibly, way beneath the surface of our lives. Pressuring ourselves to do all kinds of nice things for people and performing a multitude of good works does not make us holy. It can, if we are not careful, make us extremely nervous and pressure us into commitments that can overload our already overburdened lives.

Real spirituality begins by finding God, feebly, perhaps, in the beginning, but then more confidently as we travel along the way. At first, we may be driven to Him out of desperation. But that’s all right. God uses all kinds of circumstances to lead us to Himself. Or we may just feel a need to draw closer to God. Whatever the reason, God is calling us to a deeper intimacy with Himself. Jesus teaches us the attitudes we should have when we establish contact with His Father. We must have a childliketrust. This isn’t a command, but His attempt to teach us how to establish a healthy relationship with His Father whom He knows so well.— Never Alone, 14

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

You can't always see it

Real spirituality and spiritual growth, however, have to be distinguished from religious activities and pious exercises. These exercises merely mimic spirituality. Unfortunately, many people think that they grow close to God by performing religious practices and doing religious things. That is not spirituality. They may even get a reputation for being pious. Jesus lived for thirty years in Nazareth, and you would think the townsfolk He grew up with would have been impressed with His holiness. Oddly enough, they were surprised when He began His public mission and began to preach the Good News. “Where did he get all this from? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Obviously, His holiness didn’t make a big impression. You might wonder how Jesus could have kept His exquisite spirituality hidden during all those years, so that even His playmates were shocked by His apparent newfound interest in religion. What made it possible for Jesus to keep His spiritual life hidden from the eyes of those who lived so close to Him was that His holiness was genuine. It did not de- pend on showy external practices.— Never Alone, 13

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

It starts young

Parents may teach religion to children. Churches may do the same. But that is not spirituality. That, too, should begin in childhood. Children should be taught about God in a simple, loving way so they can learn to trust Him and begin to know Him as a kind and loving Father who made them, not perfectly but with all they need to grow in His love. They could be taught about Jesus and about His life and how He lived and how He loved people. They could be taught about Jesus as the Good Shepherd who cared for the hurting and the troubled sheep, so they can learn to run to Him when they have problems, and when they fall and make mistakes.— Never Alone, 11–12

Tozer for a Tuesday

Lady Julian of Norwich (ca. 1342–ca. 1416) understood this about as well as anybody I have read. She wrote, “O God, please give me three wounds; the wound of contrition and the wound of compassion and the wound of longing after God.” Then she added this little postscript, which I think is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read: “This I ask without condition, Father; do what I ask and then send me the bill. Anything that it costs will be all right with me.”

We of the evangelical persuasion want God to do all the work and we get an easy ride to glory. Certainly, Christ has paid the full price for our redemption, but our walk with God on a daily basis will cost us much. Are we willing, cheerfully, to pay the cost?.—A.W. Tozer, The Dangers of a Shallow Faith, page 207

Monday, January 18, 2021

Breathe the fresh air of the mystics

What’s so troubling about our religion today is that the clergy either don’t recognize the people’s hunger for spirituality or are unfamiliar themselves with Jesus’ way Of life and Christianity’s rich tradition of mysticism and asceticism, all well tested through the centuries. This is Christianity and application of Jesus’ teachings at its best, and we don’t teach it to our people. At the height of the Protestant Reformation, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius Loyola, and others were delineating the path of interior holiness through mystical union with God in such practical detail that even today their approach to holiness is still taught in theology courses and spiritual retreats. Sadly, the masses of the people are not taught this in their churches, so not even knowing that such guidance exists, they look outside Christianity.— Never Alone, 11