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Rabbi Considers Sexual Misconduct and Repentance?

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, rabbi-in-residence at Avodah, a Jewish social justice organization that deals with pressing issues facing this country, wrote an important article on September 6, 2018, in the Washington Post. The title of her piece is “Famous abusers seek easy forgiveness. Rosh Hashanah teaches us repentance is hard.”

I think it will be helpful to Christians to consider the Jewish perspective on repentance and redemption. For this article, Ruttenberg focuses on famous men known for their sexual misconduct that removed them briefly from the public eye only to be restored a year or so later to their former positions. She asks, “Are these men sorry? Should they be forgiven? More to the point, perhaps, who has the right to forgive them?

Most non-Jews do not understand that there is no place for cheap grace and easy forgiveness as our pop culture accepts and expects. They do not know the true meaning of repentance—“the work that a person who has done harm must undertake.”

Repentance requires the sinner to publicly and sorrowfully own the harm he has done, which also involves an inner struggle to make a change in his behavior, so that he never sins again. He then directs his life towards God. Also, these sinners should seek to make restitution to their victims financially and/or with sincere and meaningful apology.

Think About It

  • Do you agree with Rabbi Ruttenberg? Why?
  • Who do you think has the right to forgive a sexual predator?
  • Ultimately, what role does God have in forgiveness?
  • What should be done to sexual predators?
  • What should their punishment be?
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During the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 numerous, unmasked protestors gathered together in public places insisting on their right to freely assemble without governmental restrictions. They know they are violating state and federal laws requiring people to self-quarantine in their homes and when running essential errands to wear face masks and to maintain a six-foot social distancing regulation. These protestors reject the advice of the medical care professionals and infectious disease experts. They claim that their First Amendment Rights to our nation’s Bill of Rights are being violated by governmental regulations for the suppression of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Their reckless behavior endangers the lives of at least three others with whom they come in contact. Should they be held responsible for someone’s infection and possible death? Are they carrying the virus to family members, friends, and associates? Are we not supposed to be our brother’s keeper not the transmitter of Covid-19?

When the day comes that they contract this virus, let alone the number of people they may have infected, should the over-worked medical profession treat them first or the innocent, law-abiding citizens who contracted Covid-19 through no fault of their own? Decisions like these have to be made daily in life.

Can we let the self-centered behavior of others sabotage our present and future well-being? In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus compares admission to the kingdom of heaven by telling the parable of the wise and foolish maidens who took their lamps with them to meet the arriving bridegroom. The wise maidens took flasks of oil with them for their lamps. The foolish maidens did not. The bridegroom was delayed. When he finally arrived, the foolish maidens had no oil left and asked the wise ones to give them some.

But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Often unexpected burdens are thrust upon us. Sometimes we do not know how to resolve the dilemma of what we should do. What is our responsibility as God’s children? Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish maidens reminds me of the Covid-19 protestors and others who go racing through life, grabbing what they can from others without any care or thought to the consequences of their actions. They always expect someone to bail them out of any trouble they might get themselves into as though all privileges and help are their due rather than a gift.

Plastered on many college administration offices is a sign that says: “Your poor planning does not constitute a crisis for me.” The foolish maidens can be compared to carefree, freeloaders that exist in most societies. They go through life unprepared and take no responsibility for the consequences of their actions. God is the bridegroom in this parable. The foolish maidens are not ready or prepared for meeting God. They are expecting someone else to help save them. They expect God to let them into the bridal feast no matter what their behavior or excuses may be. But God shuts the door to the bridal feast for the unprepared and the unrepentant.

Likewise, we should not let our valuable energies and medical resources be directed toward helping those who refuse to take responsibility for their lives and their own behavior. Hysterics and irresponsibility on the part of some people is a way of controlling and manipulating others and making them responsible for the hysterical person’s well-being and dependency.

Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish maidens for His hearers either to accept or reject His message. He did not try to manipulate or be held responsible for other people’s behavior and decisions.

We, too, cannot allow others to control our behavior and our future through sabotage or hostage-like activities. Let me give you an example. After one of my parishioners had her hip replaced, I visited her in the hospital. The woman in the bed next to her refused to do anything to help herself. Her family stood by helplessly wringing their hands while the medical staff tried to motivate the sick woman into action. This sick woman had everybody exactly where she wanted them. Contrasted to her was my elderly parishioner walking around with discomfort and pain.

You see, we need to be able to separate legitimate needs such as incapacitation, mental and physical illness, from self-induced manufactured needs and their subsequent consequences. Also, we cannot do for others what they must learn to do for themselves. Otherwise we deprive them of their growth and independence. Motivation determines how we climb the hills and descend into the valleys of our lives.

Think About It
• During the Covid-19 pandemic, should unmasked demonstrators be allowed to gather together in a mass protest to the violation of their First Amendment rights? What makes you think so?
• What is their responsibility for protecting the vulnerable?
• Who should care for these demonstrators when they become ill with Covid-19?

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What to Do in Troubled Times

Don’t panic. Stay calm. In times of trouble and in life and death situations, Jews and Christians find comfort in Psalm 23. Today with the Coronavirus, we face an invisible enemy that affects all our lives. In an effort to give you more insight on this Psalm, let me share with you my thoughts and how it helped me through some difficult times. Then and now I adapt Psalm 23 to my present situation. I make this psalm my own.
Psalm 23 uses shepherd and sheep imagery. God is the good shepherd that provides us, the sheep, with safety and sustenance. The first three verses of this psalm focus on God’s provisions given to us.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Lying down is a symbol for peace and tranquility. The still waters refresh us. So if we are part of God’s flock and let God govern our lives, we will be revived spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. And we will be content to go wherever God leads us.
Verse 4 challenges us in how to survive bad times. It reads:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil; for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff—they comfort me.

God’s “rod” is used against enemies and His “staff” is used to guide us.

In October 2019, I had to have an ablation done on my heart at Yale New Haven Hospital to stop the many extra beats my ventricular chambers were making. During the procedure, I was tightly strapped to the operating table. Because anesthesia gives me problems, I was allowed to be partially conscious and could watch the entire procedure on closed circuit TV. I repeatedly prayed Psalm 23 and put myself in God’s care and that of my cardio electrophysiologist. I was not fearful and trusted in them to deliver me from death’s door.
Verses 5 and 6 celebrate my recovery. They read:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

For me, these verses celebrate my recovery and gratitude. My length of days will be determined by God.

Today we are confronted by a horrible natural evil—the Covid-19. It is our enemy that we must defeat. We are trying to defeat it so that it cannot be perpetuated. What we can control is our response to it. Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of The Lord is my Shepherd: Healing from the Twenty-Third Psalm, challenges us with these thoughts:

God teaches us to look at the world and see it as God would have us see it. If we are anxious, the psalm gives us courage and we overcome our fears. If we are grieving, it offers comfort and we find our way through the valley of the shadow. If our lives are embittered by unpleasant people, it teaches us how to deal with them. If the world threatens to wear us down, the psalm guides us to replenish our souls. If we are obsessed with what we lack, it teaches us gratitude for what we have. And most of all, if we feel alone and adrift in a friendless world, it offers us the priceless reassurance that God is with us.

Rabbi Kushner and most of us have suffered the loss of loved ones and have been wounded by life. Some of us currently live in the valley of the shadow of death and seem to have trouble getting out of that valley. Others live in error. Still others feel the effects of war, intimidation, depression, oppression, violence, and starvation. No matter what these enemies do to us, if we call upon God, Psalm 23, verse 4, asserts that God is with us and comforts us. No enemy can overcome or banish God’s presence and comfort towards us as God’s rod symbolically drives away enemies. God’s staff with its shepherd’s hook pulls us out of our dark valleys.

So pray Psalm 23 and make it your own.

Think About It:

  • Do you find comfort in Psalm 23? How so?
  • Who will go with you through your dark valley?
  • Who are your enemies? And why are they your enemies?
  • Why will God anoint you?
  • Why are you confident or not confident that you dwell in the house of the Lord?
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A Call to Action

Happenings in today’s world distresses most people and me. Yet some of my friends do not even want to stay informed. They figure what will be will be, and they will deal with it when it happens. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, believes the worst sin anyone can commit is to be silent in the face of evil. When he accepted the award for the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1986, he said the following in his acceptance speech.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the Universe.

History is full of people, mostly men, who sought power and economic advantage over the lives of others through predatory practices. In the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Elijah Cummings are two shining examples from a persecuted minority who challenged all predatory and unjust practices against their race and other under-represented and voiceless minorities. Unafraid, they rose up and shined a bright light for people to follow and to stand firm against the injustices practiced against all of them.

I pray that people of conscience will also rise up and do the same against racism, genocidal practices against the Kurds in Syria, Myanmar Rohingya Muslims, Yazidis, and the Uyghur Muslims in China. Persecuted minorities need the United States and the world’s protection against all predators, not withdrawal, silence, and the giving of green lights to the predators. We should not be pulled into darkness.

This holds true for evil cartels in countries such as Mexico and Central America where protection money must be paid by innocent civilians if they wish to stay alive and keep their children from being drafted into the cartels to be foot soldiers and sex slaves. We need to willingly leave our comfort zone to aid and assist vulnerable people who are preyed upon in this world. It is my hope that young people like Greta Thunberg will start a movement that challenges people of all ages to rise up with them and leave their comfort zone to shine a light on predators and their evil practices.

I pray that people will accept God’s calling to protect the innocent and vulnerable. May God bless, guide and protect them and give them the courage, energy, and wisdom necessary to confront and overcome all obstacles. May predators and their predatory practices be brought to justice so that peace and good will reign forever.

Think about it

  • What are your thoughts on today’s genocides? What can you do about them?
  • Why do you think anti-Semitism is on the rise? What can you do about it?
  • What can you do about white supremacy?
  • How and why have political leaders given the green light for the persecution of minorities?
  • Actions and inactions have consequences. How can we call ourselves Christians when we turn a blind eye on unbridled evil? What can you do to help the persecuted?
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Zero Sum Living

Photo by Chris Liverani
Photo by Chris Liverani

In the July 3, 2019, edition of The Christian Century, publisher Peter W. Marty wrote an article on Zero-sum living. Zero-sum game theory works on the basis that there must be winners and losers in this life of ours. He writes:

The scorekeeping and power displays inherent in this win-or-lose approach are uninspiring at best and vengeful at worst. There’s nothing lovely in thinking that my happiness requires someone else to be unhappy or that my appreciation for what I have in life depends on someone else having less.

Zero-sum living rears its head in our nation’s political life, in sports, in immigration policies, in economics, in protection of our environment, etc. Most disconcerting is when it mixes with the gospel. Marty writes:

Some Christians wonder what joy their salvation will bring if God saves everyone—as if joy in salvation depends on the misery of some people being damned. This kind of perverse zero-sum thinking has no place in the economy of God.

On the other hand, we must recognize that there will always be winners and losers in certain endeavors. Some people are more gifted as doctors, lawyers, scientists, mathematicians, manual laborers, artists, authors, musicians, and artists. Realizing one’s limitations can be a good thing. Why try to be something you either have no interest in or no talents. We all learn to be resilient through our loses and/or through our limitations. We learn by doing and hopefully be a contributing member of society.

Maya Angelou has two statements that should be considered. They are:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.


Think about it

  • Do you or your family live to win at all costs against your competitors? Why?
  • How does our society foster zero-sum living? Give some examples.
  • Is there anything you can do to reverse a zero-sum living mentality? What might it be?
  • If you are on the losing end of this mentality, what can you do to protect yourself yet foster love, kindness, grace, and charity towards others?



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Who Owns the Earth?

A young woman holds a handmade cardboard sign reading "Planet Over Profit".
Photo by Marcus Spiske.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. (Psalm 24:1-2)


If the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, why do politicians and businesses rule the day in dialing back the Clean Air Act by continuing to pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink? Why do they allow deforestation through logging, mining, water pollution, coal-powered electric-generating plants, the impending extinction of wild life plants, animals, and sea life, and so on? Do we not all have a very short life span on this earth to be followed by succeeding generations who also have a short life span?

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, and millions of other like-minded people are crusading to stop everything that contributes to climate change and its impact on their future. Economics and income inequality contribute to this complicated and vicious cycle of exploitation.

Those people who profit from ravaging the environment state that the science behind our foreseeable environmental catastrophe cannot be proved. To me, that posture is similar to the naysayers who said we couldn’t put a man on the moon or that the earth is round.

Personal gain created twentieth century jobs in polluting industries that lifted people out of poverty even though they were subjected to black-lung and other diseases. Therefore, people are afraid to challenge businesses and politicians who allow the degradation of our environment because of the impact it will have on their economic well-being.

Greta and people like her have the backbone and determination to challenge our earthly predators who enact laws that benefit them, their bank accounts, and fleece the world’s natural resources. She and others are trying to save their and our future in this world.

Think about it:

  • Do you question Greta and other climate change environmentalists? If so, why do you?
  • What right and/or claim do businesses and politicians have to the land? Do they really own the land? Do you own the land? What makes you think so?
  • What sacrifices are you willing to make to reduce your ecological footprint?
  • How can businesses and politicians help displaced and laid-off workers should polluting industries shut down?
  • Is pollution a crime against humanity? If so, what makes you think so?
  • What role do you think God wants us to play regarding climate change?
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Today, Will God Hold Us Accountable?

Arlington National Cemetery, Image by vcudnik from Pixabay
Arlington National Cemetery, Image by vcudnik from Pixabay

As we remember our fallen men and women in uniform on Memorial Day Weekend, I think of my husband’s role as a soldier in the Korean War. He was just 20 years old when drafted into the army and had not been in the United States for even a year. His father died when he was eight-years old. He, his mother, sister, and two brothers were on the Soviets’ deportation list to Siberia because they were part of the intelligentsia. They were fortunate to escape Latvia as the Soviets were invading. But they had to leave everything behind except for the clothes on their backs and what they could carry in a few suitcases.

Continue reading Today, Will God Hold Us Accountable?