Wednesday, March 20, 2013

God's Outstreteched Arm

“And God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with great awe, and with signs and wonders.” (Deuteronomy 26:8)

This verse was made famous by the rabbis who compiled the Haggadah, the book that Jews use to recount the story of the Exodus at the Passover Seder, and who expounded upon it as follows: “Not through an angel, not through a seraph and not through a messenger, rather The Holy One Blessed be He did it in His glory by Himself.” The traditional text of the Haggadah focuses entirely on God as the Redeemer of the people of Israel. While Moses is the conduit for God’s signs and wonders in the biblical account, the rabbis removed him from the Passover narrative so that future generations would understand that Moses was merely a messenger or prophet of God.  Both texts—the Hebrew Bible and the Haggadah—contain numerous references to God’s strength, using anthropomorphic language to describe God. But these descriptions are not intended to be taken literally, as Jews believe that God has no corporeal being. Nor are we permitted to create graven images of God; we are, however, comfortable speaking metaphorically about God’s physical attributes. 

My understanding is that Christians regard Jesus as the son of God—some believe Jesus to be a physical embodiment of God—whereas Muslims do not speak, even metaphorically, of God’s physical attributes.  Although Jews appear to fall somewhere between these opposing views, Maimonides (1135-1204) cautioned against describing what God is because, by doing so, one might inadvertently imply what God is not.

Is there anything that you believe your tradition forbids you to say about God?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Faithful Advocacy - Part 3

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth...”  (The Gospel of John 14:16-17a, NRSV)

The pursuit of justice is one of Judaism’s central themes. From the prophets who cry out, demanding that we care for those who are on the margins of society; to the many mitzvot (commandments), obligating us to share with those in need, welcome the stranger, and regularly forgive debts; to the well-known instruction, “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue!” (Deut. 16:20), Jewish tradition insists that we construct societies that are fair and just for all people. It recognizes, too, that although not everyone is a decision-maker, each person is obligated to do what she can. According to one rabbinic saying, “If [a person] sits in his home and says to himself, ‘What have the affairs of society to do with me? Let my soul dwell in peace!’—If he does this, he overthrows the world.” (Midrash Tanhuma, Mishpatim 2)

For too many years, I sat at home and left justice work to others. Now I am actively involved, but I still sometimes feel afraid and under-qualified. Here, I draw inspiration from the story of Moses, the quintessential “reluctant prophet.” When God called Moses to lead, Moses was afraid and doubted himself. But God promised to be with him and guide him. Moreover, God sent someone—Moses’ brother, Aaron—to help him. In my own life, every time I have left my comfort zone, I have found unexpected friends and helpers along the way. My tradition demands that I do what I can to bend the world toward justice—but it doesn’t want or expect me to do it alone.

This is the third post about Faithful Advocacy from Guest Writers LeeAnne, Amanda & Yaira. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.  Please join their conversation by leaving your comment below.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Faithful Advocacy - Part 2

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth...”  (The Gospel of John 14:16-17a, NRSV)

Pre-Islamic Arabia was rife with injustice. The wealthy and powerful clans ruled and anyone who wasn’t born into the privilege of that life was at the mercy of the system.  The weakest members of that society were often exploited and discarded.  Therefore, when our Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon Him] brought the message of Islam, which demands equality for both genders and the redistribution of wealth through obligatory charity, it produced both a spiritual and a social revolution.

Muhammad himself was an orphan, and tradition holds that he was unable to read or write.  Although he was known for his good character, he had very little in the way of education or resources to make him the great revolutionary he would become later in his life.  I often reflect on our prophet in my own activism, remembering that by most worldly standards, his contemporaries considered him “unqualified” to lead.  But Muhammad’s humility and willingness to submit to God allowed him to spread the word and advocate on behalf of the disadvantaged, producing a beautiful new way of life for their entire community that inspires us to do the same today.  I have to remind myself regularly that God doesn’t call the qualified—but qualifies the ones He calls.

This is the second of three posts by Guest Writers LeeAnne, Amanda & Yaira. Please join their conversation by leaving a comment below.