Saturday, October 21, 2006

"Easy Silence"

This tune from the new Dixie Chicks album certainly repays careful listening From a biblical viewpoint, it's as sound as almost anything you'll hear in church.

The new Lancet report of about 650,000 dead Iraqis due to the American invasion, besides the million or so due to the sanctions regime before that, demands some careful listening too. At least Americans would think so if it were their families and neighbors.

I just realized that the "easy silence" that the Dixie Chicks are singing about, which God does for us, is just what we need so we can endure to pay attention and fulfill our duty to those around us - not ignoring those 650,000 corpses or explaining them away on the way to the mall. Put another way, the bubble of affluence and personal "peace" - the easy silence of our own making that we hide in - is what we do in place of the peace God offers. We pass by on the other side like the priest and the Levite as a substitute for the peace of God.

We spurn the peace of God because his peace calls us to stop for the wounded instead of passing by on the other side. We don't like the prospect of turmoil on the road of God's peace.

Jesus offers us his peace, but "not as the world gives." Well then, the world really does give peace, but what is that peace? Is it not the stuff, the empty entertainment, the lies about how wonderful our favorite empire is, the willful ignorance that hundreds of thousands of people are slaughtered with our indifference or even approval - which we sure wouldn't approve in others if we were on the sharp end?

Does God actually give us this peace that he promises, "not as the world gives" - a peace based on awareness of truth instead of unconsciousness - or are these just empty religious words? Is this peace of God really more satisfying than that which the world gives? Is it really easy silence - the easy yoke and light burden that Jesus promises?

How we answer such questions determines whether we take the broad way to destruction or the tight and narrow way which leads to life.

Well then, a plug for the Dixie Chicks. Go to for their concert schedule, and for where to buy their new album, "Taking the Long Way," which God's way certainly is.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In Moses (Leviticus 23:26-32) it is written that "You are to do no work at all."

Jewish tradition prescribes a complete fast: not even water, and many won't even brush their teeth. That's not explicit right in this passage, which says only, "You shall humble your souls." And indeed Rabbi Israel Salanter, generally considered the founder of the Mussar (ethics) movement in Orthodox Judaism, commanded his congregation to eat on Yom Kippur during a cholera epidemic to prevent weakness and save life, and he ate before them in the synagogue.

But "no work at all" is very clear, and so it is certain that no work at all is at the heart of humbling our souls. As I was thinking about this today, I saw clearly that our work indeed feeds our pride, which is what we like about it the way some like fine cocaine or crystal meth. Work can easily make us high and full of ourselves. That is why atonement and our work are totally incompatible, just as Torah teaches here. Our own work is what we chiefly need to repent of, and the pride it nurtures in us with its related contempt for others who don't work as hard as we do.

The Pharisee praying with himself in the temple is lifted up in his heart by his work, and how it is better than the tax collector's.

Finally, although we are to do no work at all, one work is permitted, and indeed required - circumcision on the 8th day. Circumcision isn't our work to be puffed up about. If it's real, it's God's work done by God's knife (Jeremiah 9:26). The only way we can do no work at all and humble ourselves is if God works. He's always doing mercy. Thus Rabbi Salanter was late to synagogue and missed the Kol Nidre prayer because he stopped to take care of a baby that had been left alone in a house on the way. Justice and mercy are God's work, not ours, so we need to be doing that when we're supposed to do no work at all.