A Special People?

A Special People?

We have children of a certain age – 4 and 7. So I can relate to Jami, the author of this blog on a child’s piano recital. She humorously points out that she wants her children to know they “aren’t that great”. “You’re not better than others”.

I'm Better Than YouShe somewhat convincingly suggests that this is the message of Christ. It’s a great blog, and it inspired me to try to tackle this important topic myself, however imperfectly, because Jami’s blog raises a question that is at the heart and core of my book – “The People of the Sign”.

Why does God seemingly tell Israel, in Deuteronomy 7:6, the opposite of what Jami proclaims as the message of Christ?

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.

Isn’t telling one people they shall be raised above all others the opposite of what Christ tried to accomplish? Isn’t Christ’s approach to this at the heart of why the Pharisee’s hated Him, and killed Him? Isn’t this question at the heart of all religious strife on this planet today, as evidenced by the highly explosive situation in the Middle East, focused on Israel?

This is a blog, not a treatise on theology, so at the risk of oversimplifying I’ll discuss just two quick points on why there is no contradiction between Moses and Christ.

First – if you want to find evidence of progressive revelation, that God has been raising mankind, the way parents raise children, here it is. Every parent knows you fill your children with love in infancy. You make sure they know that they are THE most important thing in your life. This statement by God is 100% in alignment with that principle.

Life is hardBut does that relegate Moses to “baby talk” – a lovingly told divine lie, a bait and switch, in which the baby later learns “it’s a cruel world, and I know I told you that you were special, but you really aren’t?”

There is a parallel verse that can help us answer this – Exodus 19:5

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.

Here we see, clearly, that God conditions such elevation. The same principle of “you are a special treasure above all people” is outlined in Exodus 19:5, but with a caveat. “If you will indeed obey”. Is God interested in being obeyed? Not so much. He is interested in the results of obedience. His laws are “great making”. The greatness part comes as a result of the learning that comes from obeying God’s holy and perfect law. And it does elevate the keepers of it above others, because they do become great.

And, in fact, the New Testament also addresses Christians as “a special people, a royal priesthood”. And there is a whole lot of theology that tries to deal with the seeming contradiction I raised above. The New Testament writers after Christ, especially Paul, and the religion that was constructed upon an imperfect understanding of what Christ brought, have wrestled with this question down to our day.

A major problem with Judaism is that, as a result of historical failure to keep the law they wrote a never ending series of protective laws, to ensure it was kept. A major problem with Christianity is that Divine Law was thrown out altogether. Today, we are still trying to figure this out, but it’s really not that hard. Check out my blog on a little known book called The Secret of Divine Civilization for a practical example of this.

HumilityWe are trending toward World War III because religious fanatics have so twisted and overheated the hearts of millions of followers that they are willing to risk global conflict to prove that they, not the modern nation of Israel, are the chosen ones of God. Secular society, on the other hand, abandons all Divine guidance.

At the center of all this is the world’s only Jewish State – and a people who, after 4,000 years and millennia of suffering, may be closer than we think to the answers to this conundrum. These are, in a sense, The People of the Sign – since the Sign in the name of my first book refers to the Sign of the Covenant God made with Israel – the Sabbath. But the answer to why I believe they are close to a breakthrough will have to wait for another day.

Shabbat Nowruz

Shabbat Nowruz

Shabbat Shalom / Happy Nowruz

Nowruz Nah RuzNowruz is the new year celebration for Iranians which comes on the Spring Equinox – which is today. It is a time for joy, hope, celebration, presents. President Obama called out “Happy Nowruz” yesterday, as this day arrived in the region formerly known as Persia, due to the Earth reaching that designated place in its orbit around the sun. This day is also significant to the Zoroastrian Faith, The Baha’i Faith, and others.

Lunar Eclipse 2015 / Blood MoonToday also, however, happens to be the first Jewish Sabbath after the recent elections in Israel. And it comes during a cycle of Blood Moons that many believe have historic prophetic significance. In other words, this day is at the center of a swirl of real-world and symbolic happenings. Let’s take stock of the situation

Israel faces greater uncertainty in the region, including the fear that the $5B in funds to rebuild Gaza, and the efforts of Abbas at the UN continue to pose an existential threat to the Jewish state. The Middle East Forum recently published an excellent summary of this – a balanced representation of the challenges facing the new government in Israel. Obama and IranHere in America the President and other elected representatives are at odds over what is to be done in the region as he pursue negotiations with Iran that many feel will lead to disaster. One reason this seems to be a valid concern is related to the New Year beginning now in Iran. Their New Year holiday coincides with that of the Baha’i Naw-Rúz, and they are a sizable religious minority in Iran, to which I happen to belong. And yet Iran has a long history of persecuting the Baha’is – including murder, terror, torture and incarceration. This does not bode well for the future of mankind.

Thankfully, there is a God in heaven who will see to it that His Will is ultimately fulfilled.

The random virtues card I drew was cooperation. “Working together for the good of all… the willingness to stand side by side and use the different gifts each of us has to offer.” Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.” General Dwight David Eisenhower, 34th President of the U.S.A.


Dwight D. Eisenhower EisenhauerFrom the linked article above “The Eisenhauer (German for “iron hewer/miner”) family migrated from Karlsbrunn, Germany, to North America, first settling in York, Pennsylvania, in 1741, and in the 1880s moving to Kansas. Accounts vary as to how and when the German name Eisenhauer was anglicized to Eisenhower.”

Two thoughts come to mind. Christ was to return with a Rod of Iron, to set up 1,000 years of peace. And and “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks:” which would require an Eisenhauer.

Netanyahu has been referred to as a modern Churchill, who also comes to my mind in this context, but I had not thought to compare him to Eisenhower, who served in WWI and was the supreme allied commander in WWII. It was the US entry in WWII that ultimately saved what was left of the Jewish population in Europe and elsewhere, enabling the establishment, in 1948, of the Jewish state, which collected the desperate and dying remnant of the people still clinging to the Covenant of Moses.Juif

There is much in the news about Netanyahu’s approach to cooperation, and a two-state solution. The controversy is related to whether more pressure should be put on Israel or its enemies to cooperate. Many feel that a certain minimal standard of cooperation needs to be applied to both parties, rather than the path taken by my heritage-nation, Sweden for there to be more cooperation by the Israeli’s.

Beat their Swords into PlowsharesThese are important topics, because, to reverse the Iron hewer’s quote,  only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can prevent the need for force, as men look towards the dawn of eternal peace.


Netanyahu’s Moment

Netanyahu’s Moment

Benjamin Netanyahu will soon address Congress in a polarizing Polaroid moment. He’s a lightning rod for US internal politics highlighting tension between the three branches of Government and the US population.  Crossroads MediumThe Executive Branch is livid, and overreacting.  The Legislative Branch is divided, but pulling strongly against the President. The Judicial Branch may become embroiled in challenges to Executive Branch actions. The Red / Blue state divide is mixing and morphing to purple as issues collide and alignments slide.

In short, the US, Israel and the world stand at a major crossroad.

Where do you stand?

This Article might provoke some thought in that regard.

My 6 year old daughter pulled Mindfulness as the Virtues Card for me to reflect upon. It is “living reflectively, with conscious awareness of our actions, words and thoughts – attentive to others needs. Living mindfully lightens our lives by helping us to detach from our emotions. We transform anger to justice. We cultivate our inner vision, aware of life’s lessons as they unfold.”

Wow.Netanyahu's Moment

On the back of the card “Can you cleanse your inner vision until you see nothing but the light?… Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things?”

Tao Te Ching

“Mindfulness brings us serenity.”


Beautiful Striped Pajamas

Beautiful Striped Pajamas

To follow up on my Never Again? Shut Up! blog I decided to review  kindred movies that deal with the Holocaust in parallel ways, each of which is stunningly effective. Before doing so, let me preface the reviews with a few comments about the pending visit of Benjamin Netanyahu – or Bibi as he is commonly known.

This recent Politico Article illustrates the fallout caused by Congress’ invitation for Bibi to speak to it.  The article quotes Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel under Bill Clinton saying “nobody wants to be put in the position of taking sides… Democrats who are supporters of Israel don’t want to have to choose between supporting Israel and supporting their president.”

DiscordNancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives echoed this sentiment when she, according to Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill “expressed her concern that casting a political apple of discord into the relationship is not the best way forward given the formidable challenges our two countries are facing together”.  It appears she blames Bibi.  I’ll keep my opinion to myself on this, and invite you to reflect on where the “political apple of discord” originated.

Was it the invitation by John Boehner, Speaker of the US House of Representatives? Bibi’s acceptance? President Obama’s reaction? The responses by Representatives in Ms. Pelosi’s Party? Or do the causes lie with others, inside or outside the US?

But getting back to the topic of remembering the Holocaust, the origin and continued existence of the embattled “Jewish State” is directly tied to the unbelievable suffering of Jews throughout history, culminating in the Holocaust.  Denial of the Holocaust and the refusal to accept the legitimacy of Israel, and its right to defend itself, go hand-in-glove.  On the world scene many people and nations today have turned Anti-Zionism into a gross caricature of the Antisemitism that empowered the annihilation of over six million Jews.

Antisemetic caricature

It took the tiny nation 50 years to achieve a population as large as that, and since then the forces that sought to destroy it before it got established, and which have conspired against it ever since, have continued to grow in strength and influence.  The global narrative against Israel is eerily similar to that which existed in Weimar Germany, throughout sections of Europe, and pockets outside of it, in the build-up to the Holocaust.

In the US we’ve generally been supportive of Israel, but as our current president seeks to normalize relations with traditional enemies, including Iran, many believe that he has betrayed Israel, a nation we have traditionally supported. Clearly, the world is, in fact, being forced to choose.  And while it is not Israel doing the forcing, it seems to be the very presence of the Jews who, like Dickens’ Ghosts of Christmas, haunt anti-semites, past, present and future. Speaking of Christmas, a wave of religious persecution unheard of in centuries is sweeping the world, as indicated by “Christmas Slaughter”, a Gatestone Article highlighting that, in the Muslim world “Christmas celebrations were, as usual, tense and sometimes bloody”.

The first of the two movies I’d like to discuss is “Life is Beautiful”, by director Roberto Benigni, which won three Oscars in 1997. This implausible romantic comedy morphs into a story about a father trying to help his son survive a Nazi Concentration camp.  roberto benigni nicoletta braschi life is beautifulIt celebrates the power of the Human Spirit, giving visual voice to the sentiments Viktor Frankl expressed in “Man’s Search For Meaning”.  Frankl eloquently and convincingly argued that those who were able to find meaning in their suffering were more likely to survive. Against all odds, both Frankl and Benigni pull off a miracle.  Helping us understand this aspect of the Holocaust and believe that in some finite way, individuals were able to exercise a fragment of control, even in the most horrific and hopeless situations, which at times made the difference between life and death. This is one aspect of the Holocaust that needs to be remembered – the power of the Faith of those Jews, and others, who, against all odds, survived. This is the rare movie I have watched more than once, and though I last saw it over decade ago, it sticks with you, in a very positive way.

The movie, however, that inspired this blog was one I watched last night;  “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” directed by Mark Herman.  This lesser known and less decorated movie is etched more clearly into my psyche than the lighter, and more inspiring movie I referenced above.  boy in the striped pajamasIt is Chilling.  Haunting.  And memorable for similar, but distinctly different reasons. Both movies illustrate how the innocence and imagination of a young boy, faced with the horror of genocidal ethnic hatred, has the ability to overcome what otherwise would be the extinction of the soul. Both movies illustrate how a belief in one’s father, supported by the love of one’s mother, gives the needed left and right wings for the spirit of the child to soar above the downward spiral of an evil so grim it presents the gassing and burning of people, based on their religious and cultural ethnicity, as a solution.

The difference between the two is the nature of the father.

I won’t spoil either movie, but strongly recommend you watch them both, with this in mind.  What I will say before pulling a random Virtue Card to guide us to conclusion, is that the Title of my trilogy and this Blog “The People of the Sign” really centers around that question.  What is the Nature of our Father – capital F – our Divine Creator? And how do we identify with Him? My book posits that, for the Jews it was the Sign of the Sabbath Day, which gave them an identity the Nazis could hang a yellow star upon, branding them for slaughter.

The card I pulled was Cooperation. I resisted my initial desire to draw again, which would be contrary to numerous virtues, and instead decided to cooperate with it. Here’s a selection of what’s on the card:

“Cooperation is working together for the good of all. It is the willingness to stand, side by side and use the different gifts each of us has to offer. We seek common goals in service of a unified vision.” The card features a great quote by Dwight Eisenhower “Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace”.

I’m glad I chose to cooperate with it.  I’m of the opinion that we do face an emergency, and that force will be needed to deal with it. At the same time, the only solution is cooperation. Within congress. Between congress and the President. And with Israel, who perhaps has more grounds than any other nation on earth to decide not to cooperate with others, in order to protect themselves.

I for one wish to hear what Bibi has to say. He represents a people whose clarity was forged by trusting in God, over millennia, and who, despite the Holocaust, haven’t given up on life, or on cooperation.