Levity: It’s Not Just for Levites on Purim

Tonight at sunset begins the Jewish festival of Purim. Let me open with a joke. Here’s an oldie but a goodie:

A devout Jew goes to his rabbi for advice. “Rabbi,” he says, “I’m having problems with my son. I brought him up in the Jewish faith, sent him to Hebrew school, threw him a big Bar Mitzvah party, and now he tells me he’s become a Christian!”

“It’s funny that you should come to me,” the rabbi answers. ” I also brought my son up in the Jewish faith. I sent him to Hebrew school, and I threw him a big Bar Mitvah party. He, too, became a Christian.”

The man is astonished. “What did you do?” he asks.

“Well,” says the rabbi, “I prayed to God.”

“And what did God say?”

“God said, ‘It’s funny that you should come to me. . .’”

Get it? Get it? Think about it.

To Drink or Not to Drink: That is the Question

Now on to more Purim-y matters. The Talmud (not the Bible) tells us to drink to excess on only one night of the year: Purim.

Meghilla 7b says, “A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’”

Maimonides wrote: “That one should …drink wine until he is drunk and falls asleep from drunkenness” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah, 2:15).

At all other times, Judaism forbids drunkenness. Why the command for drunkenness on Purim? Because Purim is about revealing hidden things. Just as Esther’s true identity was hidden, and Haman’s true character was hidden, we hide our true intentions behind a mask of social refinement. Purim is the one day of the year to strip away all pretenses and reveal to ourselves who we really are beneath the self-control of rational thinking. Drinking doesn’t bring about a new personality. It only reveals what was there all along (This means you, Mel Gibson).

The point here is that drunkenness during Purim is a legitimate doctrine. It’s not just an excuse for bad behavior, as some people charge. And there is a vast difference between drunken misbehavior as a way of life, and one drunken evening for the purpose of growing closer to God.

Of course, many, many people, both Jews and Christians, celebrate Purim without getting drunk, and believe that drunkenness is wrong for any reason—even if it brings about unrestrained joy.

From a practical perspective, I can’t help but think that there is a fine line between getting drunk enough to “fall asleep from drunkenness” and getting drunk enough to die from alcohol intoxication or asphyxiation. That line can’t be figured accurately by one who is already impaired by alcohol, and who is not a regular drinker.

I believe that whether you drink much, drink little, or don’t drink at all, God sees your true self, and he weighs the motives of your heart. I personally choose not to get drunk for Purim. What about you? Do you celebrate Purim? Are you planning to get drunk tonight? How do you strip away pretenses and get real before God and others?

So Catholics Are Just Like Christians, Right?

“So, Catholics are just like Christians, only they add stuff. Is that right?” I stared at my teenager. Was she joking?

Angela understood the concept of Christian unity; but she lost an important specific—Catholics are Christians. Her dad and I taught her this, but even the most diligent teaching gets derailed, if we’re not diligent to reinforce it.

I understand how she got confused. I hear the same anti-Catholic rhetoric that she does. From “it doesn’t take all that to please God,” to Catholicism as “the Pagan whore of Babylon,” and a “Godless theology of hate.” [From, “Should Christians Support Israel?”, John Hagee, 1987]

As far as Catholics adding things, I told my daughter, there are striking similarities between Catholic and Jewish traditions. The Catholic 40 days of Lent, for example, mirrors the Jewish 40 days of Teshuvah. Catholics say that their faith traditions were handed down directly from St. Peter, a Jewish disciple of Jesus. The similarity in traditions makes a good case for that.

Protestants say that Catholics add stuff. Catholics say that Protestants take away stuff. For all of our differences, however, we agree on one fundamental truth: Jesus is the Son of God.

The Bible says, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.” (1 John 4:15, NIV)

No matter how you slice it, that makes Catholics and Protestants brothers and sisters in faith.

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20-21, NIV)

After that incident with my daughter, I turn to the calendar to remind me to reinforce unity through education. We’re using the opportunity of the Lenten season to explore the rich heritage of our Christian faith, and the multitude of directions that God leads his children within that faith. Do you teach your children to embrace believers who follow traditions and practices that differ from your own? Or do you teach your kids to separate from them, because they are not real Christians? Or is it somewhere in between?

Secret to Lasting Unity is Individuality

Ralph and Phyllis Tarant married in 1933. They say they are still as devoted to one another as ever. The secret? Ralph says with a chuckle, “She goes her way. I go mine.”

See their story HERE.

My parents married in 1948. They’ve been a couple since they sat next to one another in high school, 68 years ago; and they’ve been an inter-faith couple for the past 30 years. Last night, John and I visited them, bringing a mix CD of their favorite love songs for Valentine’s Day. While Mom danced and sang with my husband in the dining room, I sat in the living room with Dad and reminisced.

My childhood memories include Mom going her way and Dad going his, each anchored home by love for one another. Sometimes Mom disapproved of Dad’s actions–or vice versa. They voiced their opinions, then gave the other freedom to do as they chose. Disagreements were taken in stride, and the life they forged together was taken with joy and love and laughter. I’m the youngest of their five children, and a witness that their devotion to one another is not for show. It’s for real.

When John and I married in 1984, I tried to become the devoted Christian wife that my church said I should be, but my husband never asked me to be. I put aside my talents and the things that I loved in order to support my husband. I kept my mouth shut if I disapproved of his decisions. In turn, he put aside his passions to become the devoted Christian husband that our church said he should be, but I never asked for. He kept quiet about his dissatisfaction, and tried to carry the responsibilities of decision-making alone.

We lost our individuality, which was the very thing that drew us to one another in the first place. Our resentment for one another grew. After years of misery, we came to the conclusion that our marriage wasn’t working. Though it looked good on the outside, it was just for show. We decided to go our separate ways–together.

By Focusing on Individuality, We Found Unity

Our church taught us that the formula for joy is: Jesus first. Others second. Yourself last.

That’s catchy, but it nearly destroyed our family. The formula that rescued us is the same one that seems to work for my parents and for Ralph and Phyllis Tarant: Individuality first. Then family. Then community. God created us individually. He gave us each unique perspectives, talents and abilities. When we put his purpose for us as individuals first, we aren’t being selfish. We’re putting God first.

The Bible is full of paradox. Lose your life, and you will save it. Give and you shall receive. By focusing on individuality, we found unity.

That doesn’t mean we don’t make sacrifices for one another. Individuality First means that at times we choose to sacrifice in order to encourage individuality in our spouse. And that sacrifice becomes part of who we are as individuals. It all circles around and connects.

Today, my husband and I love one another with joy and love and laughter. I go my way, and he goes his. When things start to get unbalanced, we go back to Individuality First and find unity again. God willing, we will still be as devoted to one another in our final days as we are now. Now it’s for real.

Should I Date My Husband for Valentine’s Day?

“You’re so cute,” John said, his blue eyes twinkling. I wiped ropa vieja off the front of my blouse, leaving a tomato sauce blob on pink satin. “It kinda looks like Cuba,” I remarked.

After twenty-six years of marriage, this was our first Valentine’s Day date. For the record, it wasn’t my idea.

Growing up, Valentine’s Day meant heart-shaped pancakes, construction paper doilies, candy hearts, and comparing loot at class parties. By the time I hit my teens, February 14 was my favorite holiday. In my mind, the day symbolized all the love in my life–God, family, friends, heroes and even pets. I didn’t want to waste such a wonder-filled day on something as fleeting as dating. So I never did.

That was fine by John. After we married, we celebrated with home-grown azaleas and chocolate, with relatives and friends, but never with romance.

Last Valentine’s Day, our grown children urged us to forgo our usual ritual of watching I Love Lucy videos, and make reservations at the famous waterfront Columbia restaurant overlooking Tampa Bay at sunset. It seemed silly to me; but it was the perfect opportunity to break out that designer purse I got for my birthday. I even picked up some shoes at Walmart to match. I wore pink satin, because that seemed Valentine-y, and I ordered ropa vieja because I knew how to pronounce it. (That’s right. I still don’t speak Spanish.)

I’m no rube. I know what fork to use. On any other day, I would have floated into the restaurant, taken in the spectacular view and enjoyed every moment. But on February 14th, as the maître d’ escorted us to our table, I felt like all eyes were on us—and not in a good way. I could almost hear Anthony Hopkins hissing, “You know what you look like to me with your expensive bag and your cheap shoes?”

In the same way, I checked out other couples. I wondered about each one—how long they’d been together, if they had children, if they were having fun. I scanned ring fingers for wedding bands. One guy looked like the guy in the Old Spice commercials. You know, the man your man could smell like. I gave John a look at that nod. He glanced over, then burst out, “I’m on a horse!” Very discrete.

After dinner, we walked along the pier and took pictures. What should have been a lovely night seemed so forced. Aside from the stain of Cuba, the evening ran smoothly. It just wasn’t. . . real.

I can’t put on romance like pink satin. Romance shows itself spontaneously, like when my husband smiles at my klutzy blunders. Like when he plays my favorite music as we ride in the car. When he cleans up the line of dead ants stuck to the wall with hairspray—even after he wins a cut-throat game of Uno that says he doesn’t have to.

Maybe I just need to give it time. Should we try dating again this year? What do you think of Valentine’s Day dating? I don’t see how it could ever beat I Love Lucy.

See also: Tips for Interfaith Couples on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day Activities for Children

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve: History of Valentine

WWJV: What Would Jesus Vote?

Back in the day, Democrats claimed to have a monopoly on God’s favor. They made their case championing civil rights and safe working conditions. These days, Republicans claim God’s backing, citing their commitment to protecting the lives of the unborn and to traditional families. And don’t even get me started on the Tea Party! What’s a voter to do? What would Jesus vote? I compiled the following list of quotes by Jesus.

JESUS ON TAXES: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” See Luke 20:20-26

JESUS ON HEALTH CARE: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” Matthew 10:8

[See also Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:30-37]

JESUS ON IMMIGRATION: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in?…The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” See Matthew 25:34-40

JESUS ON MARRIAGE:  “At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’  and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate…I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery…Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given…The one who can accept this should accept it.” See Matthew 19:3-12

JESUS ON THE ENVIRONMENT: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.”  Luke 12:6

JESUS ON FINANCIAL AID: “Be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” Luke 11:41

JESUS ON ARROGANT AND HEARTLESS LEADERS: “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” See Mark 12:38-40

Could it be–is it possible–that God is not in a political party? Could it be that right and wrong transcend politics?

See also: Tampa’s Elephant in the Room

and Do Christians Follow Political Peer Pressure?


Fox’s Facebook Poll Asked If Jews Killed Jesus

Fox Latin America posted a poll on their Facebook page inviting readers to comment on who they think is responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. The choices were: Pontious Pilate, the Jewish people, or the High Priests (who were also Jewish). Really?

After a scolding by the Simon Weisenthal Center in Buenos Aires, Fox took down the poll and issued an apology.

Read the Associated Press story here.

So here we are, on the brink of 2012, and we’re still hearing that same old blood libel message. I’d love to dismiss this slander as ridiculous; but the accusation has lead to the mistreatment and murder of millions of Jewish people throughout centuries. It must be answered every single time.

Christians: educate yourselves!

Think about it: If Jesus was truly Emmanuel–God with us–as we Christians say we believe, who could take his life from him?

  • Jesus declared that no one could take his life.  He said, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” John 10:17-18, NIV
  • Both Gentiles and Jews participated in a conspiracy to kill Jesus. “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.” Acts 4:27, NIV
  • Jesus absolved those who carried out the crucifixion, not holding them responsible. Of those who carried out the crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34, NIV
  • Jesus did not stay dead. St. Paul wrote, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living [at the time of the writing], though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also. . .” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV

If you’re looking to find out who participated in the conspiracy to kill Jesus, according to the Bible, that included both Gentiles and Jews. But if you’re looking to find out who actually killed Jesus, the answer is no one.

In addition to Biblical evidence, the Roman Catholic church published the Nostra Aetate in 1965, officially declaring that Jews are not responsible for the death of Jesus, and that all acts of anti-Semitism go contrary to the gospel’s message of love.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a gospel-by-gospel argument proving that Jews can not be held responsible for the death of Jesus in his book, Jesus of Nazareth-Part II, published in 2011.

No Biblical or theological reason exists, therefore, to blame any person or group of people for the death of Jesus.

Did you see the Fox Facebook poll? How would you respond to such a question?

Biographical memorial of Sister Rose Thering, the nun who dedicated her life to Jewish-Christian harmony, and fought successfully for changes in anti-Semitic Catholic school books and official Catholic doctrine.

Nostra Aetate, declared by Pope Paul VI, in 1965, as a direct result of Sister Rose’s work, declaring that the church does not blame Jews for the death of Jesus, and that all acts of anti-Semitism go against the gospel of love taught by Jesus.


This post was edited in 2016 to remove (outdated) broken links.


A little Kwanzaa lesson

It’s December 28th, 2011. Last night, we lit the eighth candle on our Hanukkah menorah. As I make plans for the New Year’s Eve countdown, a handful of African-Americans in our community light Kwanzaa candles.

Kwanzaa stirs controversy within the Black community. In the article, Kwanzaa: More Than a Cultural Celebration, in The Christian Research Journal, La Shawn Barber, a Black Christian writer from North Carolina, asserts that Kwanzaa is harmful to the spiritual well-being of Black people, and hostile toward Christianity, quoting Kwanzaa’s founder as saying, “Christianity is a white religion. It has a white God, and any ‘Negro’ who believes in it is a sick ‘Negro.’” Read the article [here].

Others believe that the principles of the secular holiday are compatible with Christian teaching.

Since I’m not of African-American heritage, I asked Charity Dell–cyber-friend and African-American Hebraic Christian–to write us a little something for Kwanzaa. She offers the following Kwanzaa lesson:

Kwanzaa Celebrates Shared Cultural Values

by Charity Dell

Kwanzaa–a seven-day African-American holiday starting December 26 and continuing to January 1–was first celebrated in 1966 in the United States, by Dr. Ron Maulana Karenga, a Black Studies professor at California State University. The holiday celebrates shared cultural values of African-Americans. Ceremonies are derived and combined from various African cultures. The KiSwahili language is utilized, as it is a major East African language spoken in various countries, including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. (KiSwahili refers to the language. Swahili refers to the people/ethnic group.)

Most Kwanzaa celebrators are African-American Christians, who also celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some African-American and Euro-American churches also incorporate Kwanzaa into December celebrations. The holiday is meant to focus upon, and instill pride in the heritage, history and cultural traditions that link African-Americans to their various countries of origin. Most African-Americans were taken from West, Central and Southern Africa, although some East and North Africans were also sent to the New World. (Thanks to the availability of genetic testing, African-Americans can now find out which ethnic groups they share genetic material with.)

The name Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase matunde ya kwanza, which means “firstfruits.” The founder of the holiday originally conceived Kwanzaa as an affirmative means of celebrating African heritage and culture, and providing an alternative to participating in the commercialized aspects of Christmas. As the holiday gained acceptance among Black Americans of various faiths, Dr. Karenga welcomed participation by African-Americans of various faiths. Kwanzaa celebrations are typically sponsored by churches, libraries and community centers.

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa represents a principle or ideal that African-Americans, their families and communities should strive for. These principles are collectively called the NGUZO SABA.

December 26–Umoja–Unity

December 27–Kujichagulia–Self-Determination

December 28–Ujima–Collective Work and Responsibility

December 29–Ujamaa–Cooperative Economics

December 30–Nia*–Purpose

December 31–Kuumba–Creativity

January 1–Imani*–Faith

Seven green, red and black candles are lit in a kinara (candle-holder), each representing the principle of each day. In addition, there are several symbolic objects placed near the kinara.

KIKOMBA–the unity cup. Sometimes a libation is poured out to either honor one’s ancestors, or symbolize the ancestor’s sacrifices made for us.

MKEKA–a simple woven mat, symbolizing home and hearth.

MAZAO–crops, representing the harvest.

MUHINDI–corn, symbolizing children.

ZAWADI–gifts, typically given from parents to children. Gifts are supposed to be crafted by the giver.

As the holiday evolves, families and communities plan celebrations reflecting the customs and traditions of their cities. For Black churches that sponsor Kwanzaa celebrations, festivities may center upon the contributions of African-American Christians throughout history.

For community centers that sponsor Kwanzaa, a huge get-together (HARAMBEE) and feast (KARAMU) may be featured, and will usually feature African dance, music, theater, art, poetry readings and other creative artistic endeavors presented by children, youth and adults. As Kwanzaa occurs during the winter holiday break for school children and college students, it is usually convenient to celebrate, since families are already together for Hanukkah, Christmas and Three Kings’ Day/Epiphany (January 6).

Individual families are also free to design their own home-based celebrations (in addition to other holidays celebrated in the household), since there is no standard liturgy of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa’s popularity has been growing steadily since 1966, and it now has its own children’s and adult books; informative websites; annual US postage stamp; wrapping paper; greeting cards and commercially available ritual items.

Charity Dell hails from Connecticut. She’s a third-generation Black Pentecostal, raised in the Church of God in Christ. She holds a Masters degree in Divinity and one in Library Science, and leads celebrations of Biblical holidays from a Hebraic perspective.

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