THANKS, NOW LEAVE – Rich Paschall

Not Welcome Anymore, by Rich Paschall

Roger was a busy guy.  In recent months he absolutely could not find time to fit one more thing into his schedule.  The local pastor, Jared, was even busier and usually kept to a tight schedule.  His time was parceled out like the hosts he distributed on Sunday.  So it was a bit of a surprise when he dropped an email on Roger asking to meet.  “Perhaps we can get together for coffee on Thursday afternoon or Saturday morning,” the message read.  Roger picked Saturday.

When Roger turned 60 he had promised himself there would be no more big projects.  He felt he was done with community organizing, large social events, and big family gatherings.  “All the work should be done by someone else,” he thought.  But then there always seemed to be another great idea and that meant “one last hurrah.”

When a long time and dedicated school worker was to be honored, many alumni were thrilled at the idea.  In fact, they wanted to put on a special tribute and all got together to discuss the matter.  Soon after Roger was handing the proposed event to the pastor, who seemed a bit skeptical at first, but eventually supported the plan.

It's really a one way street.

It’s really a one way street.

The pastor was young and ambitious, as pastors go.  He seemed to like everyone and at first, everyone liked him.  He wanted to make an impact on the parish and if you could help him with that, he was your friend.  Soon he saw Roger and Roger’s friends as a path to increased alumni involvement and successful events.  He did not help organize in any way, but he did not hinder the progress.  For the alumni, it seemed like a great thing.  The pastor was letting them do their tribute the way they believed was appropriate.

On the other hand, the pastor’s staff was not a bit enthusiastic.  The school administration was already overburdened with projects and fund-raisers.  The grade school principal was also running the high school, or neglecting it, depending on where you heard it.  Teamwork was only something written on the gymnasium wall.  It was not practiced by those who loved to point it out.  They wanted to run the upcoming honor as a small event as they had done for others in the past.  They were not happy to share the event with “outsiders,” that is, former students.

The alumni crew worked diligently.  They looked for every way to promote the big event and make it a success.  They had been warned not to count on the school administration to do their part, but they trusted them to do what they said they would do.  When the administration looked overwhelmed at a request, the alumni chairmen would advise, “Just say no if it is too much.” Unfortunately, they were already in the habit of promising what they could not deliver.

When the big event was held, the school’s part was chaotic and ran behind schedule.  The alumni tribute was forced to start late, but went well and was loved by those in attendance.  In fact, it was the most well attended alumni event held in decades.  It would certainly be the last to draw a crowd.

When the reverend contacted Roger in the week that followed the celebration, Roger knew what the topic of conversation would be.  Since they had been friends from before the time Jared came back to be pastor, Roger thought they would have a meaningful conversation.

On the day of their coffee talk, it was cold and damp, rather like the expression on the pastor’s face.  He only put on a smile when a parishioner recognized him in the small coffee shop and came over to say “hello.” Roger and Jared sat in two large chairs with a small table in between.  Jared started.

“I was rather disappointed in the event last Saturday.  It did not go as planned,” Jared said with a bit of a scowl.  “I do not like things like that in my parish.”

Roger tried to explain what happened and how it happened and why it happened the way that it did.  Jared was not interested.  His purpose seemed to be to place blame and absolve his staff of any wrong doing.  “I hold you personally responsible because you brought the plan to me.  I do not care about co-chairmen or committee members or school administrators.  I blame you.”

It would be an understatement to say that Roger was in a state of bewilderment for almost an hour as the former friend declared that Roger was not to be involved in running any more events, in fact, “You are not welcome at any school events.  I will not tolerate anything that might embarrass me in the slightest way.”  Roger was not sure how anything that did not go quite right could embarrass someone who had no hand in running the event.

Cold, grey day

When Jared was done with his coffee, he advised Roger he could still come to services on Sunday.  Roger thought, “And I am still welcome to give to the collection,” but he did not say it out loud. He watched Jared walk out into the cold, grey day which was a perfect match for his attitude.

Roger only went back to the church one more time.  He came on Christmas to read as previously scheduled.  He wished his fellow readers, and friends well but said nothing about moving on.

A former classmate told Roger that her brother had decided to go to a different parish.  “The pastor there is warm and welcoming.  It’s something they forgot here.”  Roger smiled and nodded, but said nothing.  He left the church and walked out into the pleasant Christmas weather.  He thought of the irony of the assistant who invited him to come back home to the church 15 years earlier and the pastor who invited him to leave, since they were the same person.

FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #33

Fandango’s Provocative Question #33

It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding pious or self-righteous. Personally, I always wonder if I have a price too and it’s merely that no one has offered to pay it that I have managed to stay true to my fundamental beliefs. When you’ve never been tempted or at least not tempted enough, it is hard to know what your own boundaries truly are.

This question was plucked from my post, so to a large degree, I’ve answered it already. Still, it’s a valid question with many possible answers and even more questions that lie along its borders.

The question of whether morality is part of “God’s personal patch” versus being a basic human issue is old. It’s a question that goes to the heart of every religion and dogma — as well every set of personal beliefs. It’s older than our literature and for all I know, they were pondering some version of this in cave dwellings.

For at least most of my life, as a child, adolescent, and adult, I have believed that we are all born with a fundamental knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong. It isn’t something we need to be taught. We know it. Actually, Genesis essentially says more or less the same thing.

In our bones, in our brains, in that strange space we have that is neither physical or “brain matter,” but rather a special place where we preserve our personal beliefs.

That we all know what is right and wrong from our earliest youth through all of life does not mean that we always adhere to it. We have all done the wrong thing, whether it was big and bad, or little but nonetheless, wrong.

The cynical saying that “Everyone has a price” means no matter what you believe — or why you believe it — if you are offered a good enough deal, you’ll fold and do the wrong thing. It insinuates that greed is ultimately the most powerful emotion of which man is capable.

I want to believe that this is untrue and some of us cannot be bought. But do I know that? Or have many of us never been offered a high enough price? After all, the payment doesn’t have to be money. It can be power: legal power or religious power. It can make us godlike or rich beyond the ability of our calculator to count.

Greed can be the lust for knowledge, power, drugs, or land, though somehow money seems to squeeze into the equation somehow.


To quote Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good.”


Do you agree that greed is good? Or only that greed is good within limits, to a certain extent, but not beyond? That it’s okay to be greedy as long as you don’t get excessive about it?

What is excessive?

Does it mean only if you aren’t killing or crushing other people to reach your greed level, it’s okay? Or are there other issues?

I don’t believe that greed is good. The concept that greed is good offends me. I understand why greed feels good, though. I understand everyone wants to be safe from hardship and live life in comfort and dignity. I don’t consider that greedy. More like survival with benefits.

I certainly don’t think survival is greedy until you have to murder other people to achieve it. At which point you need to put down the gun and think about it.

It’s the excessiveness of greed that’s the problem. Because once you’ve broken through the comfort barrier and moved into luxury, when is enough, enough? What amount of whatever is sufficient?

When everything the eye can see, a man desires and comfort has long been surpassed, at what point do you stop? Do you ever stop? Can you stop? When you have the greedy bit clamped between your teeth, is there an end to your run?


ALEXANDER LEARNS VIRTUE

Gold coins of Alexander of Macedon

When Alexander had flown on the back of an eagle to the gates of Heaven itself, he bangs on the door until finally, a wise man answers. Because he is a great and powerful leader, he demands the right to ask questions of the wise men. These are his questions:

“Who is wise?” asks Alexander.

“He who can foresee the future,” answers the wise man.

“Who is a hero?” asks Alexander.

“He who conquers himself,” replies another wise man.

“Who is rich?” asks Alexander.

“He who rests content with what he has,” the wise men respond.

Alexander depicted on an ancient synagogue wall

Following this question, there is a story Talmudic legend about Alexander (who was a Jewish hero — a story too long to explain here), a balance scale, and a human eye.

The eye is placed on one side of the scale. On the other side, are piled mountains of gold, gems, and all other riches. Yet the human eye is heavier, no matter how many riches are put on the other balance. Finally, one of the wise men sprinkles a bit of dust over the eye. From that moment, even a feather is heavier than the eye.

Until a man is dead and covered in earth, he will always desire more. Only death can end his greed.

“By what means does man preserve his life?” asks Alexander.

“When he kills himself.” (Talmudist notes: By this, the wise men meant when a man destroys within himself all passion.)

“By what means does a man bring about his own death?” asks Alexander, referring back to the previous question.

“When he clings to life.” (Talmudist notes: When a man holds onto his passions and belongs to them.)

“What should a man do who wants to win friends?” asks Alexander. This is his final question.

“He should flee from glory and despise dominion and kingship,” the wise men conclude.

At the end of the Judaization process, Alexander is a humbled dictator. Although the lesson does not make him a wise man, the Talmudic dialectics bring Alexander the Great down a notch or two, make him a better person and a more benevolent leader.


If anyone assured me that one can be moral and hold a strong belief system without a formal belief system, my mother did that. She believed in virtue — goodness for its own sake. She believed in dignity, kindness, fairness, and equality. She was not a racist although she was positive that education made you a better person. If there was a break in her “system,” education was it.

She loved beautiful things for their beauty, yet before she died, she gave away or sold all her jewelry and art.


In the end, I do not believe anyone of any faith is incorruptible. We all have a weak spot. Something about which we feel so passionate, we would give or do anything to achieve it.

Incorruptibility is a choice. To find out if you are incorruptible, you’d need to be tempted by whatever it is that means the most to you. You would have to make painful choices and would forever wonder if you were a fool for choosing virtue over greed, especially if you urgently needed what you refused.

If you do not have a God about whom you can say, “His laws made me do it,” you will probably feel even sillier than the religious man who at least believes he is following the route God laid out for him.

A non-believer has only his self by which to gauge the rights and wrongs of life. Standing alone is hard. A good life is a hard life.

And no one ever promised it would be easy.

PEDIATRIC RELIGION – Marilyn Armstrong

When my first husband and I were getting married, he was something vaguely Protestant, though no one in his family knew what. They never attended church and while they were wild about Christmas, it was a very non-Christian version of it.

I’m not even sure they were Christian, but they weren’t anything else, either. I think it’s possible on the paternal side of the family, they might have been Jewish several generations back, then drifted into Christianity because they weren’t Jewish enough to hang with it.

Thus when my granddaughter was hitting eight or nine and Passover/Easter was approaching, I asked Kaity what Easter was about. She had never heard of Jesus or Christianity — or for that matter, Judaism.  She was sure that Easter was about baskets of sweets. She didn’t love chocolate (who doesn’t love chocolate?) — but always preferred the hard-boiled eggs. Funny kid.

In a Jewish family, religion comes through mom, but in Christianity, it devolves from dad. In theory, she could have swung either way.

Owen was Jewish because he had a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem. In Israel, it was the natural thing to do.

Here, in a very Christian valley with dozens of churches and not a single synagogue, it made more sense to find her a Protestant niche. Later, if life took her into “choices of religion,” she could make up her own mind.

I didn’t feel, without any backup, that I could raise her as a Jew. I don’t practice Judaism. I like Jewish food, Jewish people, and deeply appreciate Jewish law and how far ahead most of most kind of law it is (and was).

I studied in Yeshiva in Jerusalem because I needed to know more, but I knew I would never be Orthodox. This was a big disappointment to my teachers who thought my interest and intellectual involvement preceded a religious commitment. They didn’t “get”(most people don’t) that I love learning for its own sake, but it doesn’t presage any follow-up.

A couple of “studies” have evolved from “learning” to hobbies. Photography. History. Literature. Ecology. Music. Some kinds of art. Technology. Other stuff.

Thus I knew a lot ABOUT Judaism, but not much about how to actually “be” a Jew. I also know a lot about Christianity, because I studied that too and even converted to it, though I practice it to the exact same degree that I practice Judaism — which is to say, I don’t.

Happy birthday at 15!

I am religiously non-dogmatic. I am pretty sure I believe in something, but I don’t know what. Not nothing, though.

Meanwhile, Garry and I felt some pediatric religion was necessary. I didn’t expect Kaitlin to make religion her life, but I thought she needed to know that Christ was not a chocolate bunny and Judaism is a religion, not a bad word you call someone.

You can’t make a choice if you don’t know anything.

To my great relief, she is happily practicing nothing, considers herself vaguely protestant — and prefers eggs to chocolate.

HERESY OR HILARITY? by Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Heretic

We are lucky to be living in a time when heresy is a personal, private issue rather than a constitutional one.

When Garry and I got married, we married in his Lutheran church because my husband still believes that stuff. I never believed it. When you are raised sort-of Jewish, you generally don’t believe that stuff. I was a lot clearer about what I didn’t believe than what I did believe … but Garry wanted a church wedding.

I wanted to get the mayor (who was a friend) to marry us on the steps of city hall. Invite our whole world. Get a lot of pizza for dinner then grab the next flight to Ireland.

While we were discussing the service — who was supposed to do what and when — they said I had to kneel.

I said, “My people don’t do kneeling.” Everyone cracked up.

But that’s the thing. MY people don’t kneel. I didn’t mind the ceremony because Garry wanted it, but kneeling? Not only do Jews not kneel but if I had to get to the floor they’d have needed a grappling hook to get me back up. It was a narrow skirt and I was wearing heels. Down I could get because there would be gravity working for me, but up? Wearing heels and a snug white dress?

In another time and place, my attitude would have landed me in a dark, damp dungeon. Followed by having my head lopped off. I sure hope they kept the axe sharp.

This being “modern times,” I didn’t die for my religious preferences or for wearing a snug dress and heels.

Times change. This is a change of which I definitely approve.

A LIVELY NEW SIN FOR A TIRED OLD WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

I did a some quick, shallow research on the original seven big ones, known lovingly as “the seven deadly sins.” Here is a quick reminder for those who didn’t do Dante, or who have (conveniently?) forgotten:


Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride.

The original sins are more than words. They are concepts.

Starting from the top, we find Lust.

Lust isn’t really about sex, indiscriminate or otherwise. Or doing it with people to whom you aren’t married. Or with sheep, for that matter. Lust is not just for horny teenagers, starlets, or white-collar men having a midlife crisis.

Lust is an intense, possibly obsessive desire. Narcissism falls under the category of lust. Lust can involve the intense, overpowering desire for money, food, fame, power, or sex. I’m sure there are more, too.

In Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks in flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. Those who already have too much yet must have more.

On this earthly plane, there’s a lot of lusting going on and sex is the least of it. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say sex is the best of it. Possibly the only piece of the “lust sinology” that’s fun and might do some good.

So how about Gluttony, eh?

If you think it means you eat too much, you’d be right, though eating is a just one of many gluttonous activities in which you can indulge. Again, like lust, it the need to “gobble the world.” To consume beyond your needs.

Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Gluttony is often interpreted as selfishness, to essentially put your own interests above the well-being or interests of others.

As far as I can tell, our whole society has been doing a lot of gulping … of natural resources, of fancy cars, houses, gadgets, widgets. We also eat too much, but in the overall scheme of things, food is the least of our problems. Probably gluttonous could be a good description of our world.

Then there is Greed.

You can’t go wrong with greed. For thousands of years, greed has been on everybody’s “most popular sin” list. Especially apt for the wealthy. It is not merely a sin, but the single most motivating of all sins. In recent years, it has lost its evil connotations and been enshrined as a wonderful goal to which we should aspire. So much for deadly, eh?

Greed rules the “bottom line.” It is idolized, enshrined, and canonized by corporate America. We don’t even think of it as a sin. Yet it’s one of the seven deadlies. Amazing how time changes everything.

Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and the pursuit of material possessions. (Like money and profit?) Scavenging, hoarding materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are actions likely inspired by greed. Or maybe greed and wrath working together.

According to Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good.” So don’t worry. If Hollywood promotes it, it must be okay.

Sloth is almost charming compared to its companions.

Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail a variety of vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually is key to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God. Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.

Wrath is a big deal and considering the state of our state, wrath might indeed be the cause for much of what ails America.

Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as “rage,” may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath can persist long after the person who committed a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide. And, of course, ranting on social media.

We seem to be in the middle of an epidemic of wrath. Politically and socially, we are an angry, hate-filled people.

Moving on, let’s talk briefly of Envy! The motivator of crime, the inciter of ambition. Like greed and lust, Envy (Latin, invidia) is insatiable desire. It is similar to jealousy in that it causes you to display discontent towards someone’s traits, status, abilities, or rewards.

The difference is that envy also desires the entity — the thing or person — and covets it. Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, “Neither shall you desire … anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Stop staring at your neighbor’s ass.

Pride is the real downfall for many of the smart set. If there’s a sin to which I can’t quite get away from, it’s pride. It pops up in so many ways. Believing yourself to be more intelligent, knowledgeable, in control of your life? Pride, my friends. Because you aren’t. You just think you are. You’ll find out. Time will show you your error.

Believing you are fully in control of your fate (yeah, right!), Pride is the sweetest sin, the most comfortable and cozy sin. It is the beloved sin of the educated and sophisticated. Certainly, it is my personal favorite.

If it turns out a Judeo-Christian God is truly in charge, this sin guarantees I will not make it to heaven because that deity was firmly again anyone’s pride but his own.

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins.

Pride is the source of all the other sins. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, as well as an excessive admiration of one’s self — especially in not holding oneself in a proper position toward God.

What could I possibly add to this prestigious list?

Allow me to suggest Willful Ignorance as a possibility. That would be a determined blindness to facts, reality, and knowledge. Willful Ignorance fits comfortably with Wrath, Envy, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Greed, and Pride.

I don’t know if it would be an improvement, but so many people are already there, we might as well have a sin for it.

ABUSE AND FORGIVENESS – Marilyn Armstrong

All religions have some good points, even ones with which you don’t quite always agree.

Personally, I am very fond of the Christian concept of “forgiveness.” It is not “I forgive you, let’s go hang out.” It is closer to “God forgives you, now please go away and never come back.”

You can forgive someone and not want anything to do with them. It took me the better part of a lifetime to figure out that my version of “forgive” and the Christian concept of “forgiveness” were not the same thing. Actually, they were not even close.

Forgiveness is about handing over your burden of pain and anger to your more powerful entity or whatever you want to call it.

It’s a brilliant concept. Dumping the burden, whether you throw it into the air to be absorbed into the never-ending universe or write it into your computer’s hard drive, it doesn’t matter. Whatever gives you your freedom, do it.

Forgiveness works because it’s a process. When you understand it, it gives you a place to start and a finish that includes freedom from anger and hate. Forgiveness matters. Not just religiously, but personally. If you never let go of the pain, anger or hurt, you can’t grow. You dry up.

After all these years, I wonder how so many smart people do such incredibly stupid things even when we (they) know better. Women marrying vicious men and staying with them long years after anyone — EVERYONE — can see they are in a hopeless, dangerous situation. Ditto men with women who are awful for them and make their lives into a hell. These are choices people make. Voluntarily. It isn’t always oppression or victimization. It can also be bad personal choices. Shame and pride keep people stuck in terrible situations.

Abuse is a huge issue in my world. If I can’t understand the bad choices people make when choosing mates, how can it be that parents abuse their children? Rape them? Beat them? Torment them? And sometimes kill them?

It turns the meaning of life upside down and inside out. Where is faith to be found in this horror? I can’t answer it because faith has always eluded me. The depravity of which people are capable is literally beyond my ability to contemplate. Torture? Intentional slaughter of an entire people? Abusing a child or dog to death?

Where is God in this?

The issue of abuse was important, to me because I was abused. The more I learn about it, the more people I discover who were also abused. It is not all that rare after all. Many people were abused as children and a lifetime later, still can’t talk about it.

I don’t mean can’t talk about it much. Can’t talk about it at all. I was able to get people to talk to me, at least a bit. To the extent, they could admit something happened. The sense of shame, anger, and horror which clings to victims is hard to understand given that victimization was unsought, unwanted, and terrifying.

Yet there it is. We are shamed by the evil others committed on us.

What makes it so much more difficult is that people whose lives were untouched by abuse don’t believe it happened. Their disbelief intensifies the shame. Not only do “regular” people disbelieve us, but judges, lawyers, police officers, teachers and other family members refuse to accept it. Nor has anyone a solution to fix it. Taking kids away and handing them to a stepfamily isn’t an answer. So many of these “temporary placements” are worse than the places from which the kids came.

It’s a problem we spend a lot of time talking about — and little effort solving. It’s a weird world in which we live.

A TINY, MONSTROUS FANGED HEAD – Marilyn Armstrong

Being Jewish is a religion, but for many of us, it isn’t only a religion. In fact, for a lot for us, Judaism isn’t religious at all, but rather a commitment to a lifestyle. It entails a wide range of ethical and moral beliefs.

One of the things it includes — if you are of my generation — is a lingering belief that all non-Jews are secretly your enemy, no matter what they say to your face. This remains true even when you are married to a Christian and got married in a Christian church. And your kids don’t even consider themselves Jewish. Somewhere inside, some little piece of you is screaming “Remember the Inquisition and the Holocaust.”

It’s an angry and frightened little voice, always alarmed and ready to grab the Torah (like I own a real Torah, right?) and run for the caves.

My kids don’t have this voice in their heads or this fear because I did not bathe them in the blood of our tortured ancestors or the piles of corpses from the Holocaust. I didn’t push this on them because I thought it was time to let it go and move on.

My mother was an atheist. She did not believe in God or gods. Her bonds to Judaism were entirely ethnic and tribal. So are mine … but ethnicity and a fondness for our cuisine isn’t something one can always pass along.

Regardless, Judaism is a religion. When you are ethnically Jewish but practice no aspect of the religion, what do you pass to your children other than recipes and a totally irrational fear of non-Jews.

Your ethical and moral commitments can stand on their own. They don’t need a religious attachment. They ought to be a part of the mental armament of any sane person. Religious or not, you ought to know the difference between right and wrong.

I didn’t pass this on to my kid or grandchild because I thought it was time to end the terror and move on to a different world.

These days, though, I wonder if maybe I was precipitous. Just because I thought the danger ended, it reared up its monstrous little fanged head again. And suddenly, safety is not so safe.

Maybe it’s about more than recipes for matzoh balls. Hatred appears to live a lot longer than I imagined possible.