Tikkun Olam: where would i begin?

Just this morning my Bible reading brought me to chapter one of 1 Peter, where two verses jumped out at me: Be holy because He is holy (1:16) and …love one another deeply, from the heart. (1:22) They loomed large because they feel so impossible for me these days. I confess to having difficulty in loving my neighbor–and I use the word neighbor loosely. Kind of like asking Jesus, Who is my neighbor? and getting the reply that you know, but you don’t want to hear… What! Those people who call themselves Christians, yet still voted for Trump? They are my neighbors? Yes. That’s really how I feel… (And that is, realistically, almost half this country???)

My ruminations led me to remember the book  Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha;  so I pulled it from my bookshelf and started paging through it again, a couple of years later, in this time of Covid-19 and anger and racial division and conspiracy theories and chaos.

It didn’t take long to find the chapter I remembered, “Repair.” She writes about a Jewish term, tikkun olam, which means “repair of the world.”  Tikkun olam calls us to do what we can to sacrificially act for the good of our neighbors, even if those neighbors might be our enemies. Even if those neighbors are belligerent about mask wearing; even if those neighbors have a nasty-language-sign in their yard; even if they somehow think the person in the White House is good for the country. How can I love them when I think what they believe is abhorrent? (For a Jewish discussion on the concept, you might enjoy this article from My Jewish Learning.)

Nikondeha then relates several stories of the Batwa tribe in Rwanda who, when faced with having their harvest of carrots stolen from their neighbors, gave them potatoes too. When they were falsely accused of stealing cabbages, they gave twice as many cabbages back. Can you hear in these stories of one of the most difficult messages from Jesus:

…But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. — Matthew 5:39-40

Perhaps we ignore this instruction because it is just too difficult to wrap our heads and hearts around? There are many difficult “red-letter” passages in the New Testament, but none so absolutely unachievable as this one. Don’t fight back, instead say yes, here, hit me again. Someone is suing you for $5,000? Give them $10,000. Your neighbor’s car just died? Give them your second car that you just finished paying off. Forgive the person who treated you so grievously a few years ago that you haven’t spoken to each other since. Wait; don’t just forgive them, invite them to a luxurious feast at your house…

It’s radical, this concept of tikkun olam. But just think of what needs repairing in this world. More accurately, in our own small worlds–our families and our communities.

I suggest that another reason we ignore the reparations that we need to make is because they are SO HUGE as to be daunting. This is not only Love your Neighbor (which is hard enough!) but this is Love your Enemy. How can we do this? Where could we start? The poet philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Yes, this is the road right outside my door…

Jesus’ version of this thought is recorded in the gospels of Luke and Matthew–the parable of the mustard seed: “For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) ESV

Although probably no one actually stole your carrot or cabbage crops, it is likely that someone stole your political yard sign. Or it is likely that your neighbor (or family member) voted for the other side. I suggest that to repair America, we need to take that first step toward tikkun olam. And the road begins right outside our door…

Walls or Bridges?

I used to tell a story in my days working in libraries with kids, and its been on my mind lately. I know reading is not the same as hearing, but do your best to hear it being told…

Once upon a time there were two neighbors who were also farmers and friends. They’d been all three for almost forty years. Trading stories, tools, helping each other put up hay–all the things that farmers, neighbors, and friends do for each other.

And then one day they had a falling out. Oh, it was over something stupid, like Paul lost Joe’s favorite hay rake; or Joe called Paul a name in jest and Paul took it wrong. What they argued about doesn’t really matter because the next day Paul took his tractor and dug a big ditch between the two men’s properties. Water from the top of the hill searched out the ditch and now a decent-sized creek was the boundary line between the two farms, when before, there had been none.

There was a terrible silence between the two men for weeks.

One day Joe looked up from working in the barn to see a man standing in the doorway. He was carrying a wooden tool box that was well filled with awls, rasps, screws, and nails. He had two saws in a pack on his back. “G’mornin,” he said with an easy smile. “Got any projects you need done or things you might need fixin’?”

Joe thought a bit and then smiled back. “You’ve come at a good time. Follow me.” Joe led the carpenter down to the rushing stream. “Ya see this crick? T’wasn’t here three weeks ago. My neighbor put it in to spite me, and I’m mighty mad about the whole thing. I want you to build me a nice wall with that pile a lumber I have in the barn. And I’ll pay ya well if ya do a good job.”

The carpenter nodded. “I have just the project in mind for you. I think you’ll be pleased.”

“I have to go to town today,” Joe told the carpenter. “I can get ya more wood if you think you’ll need some.”

“I think this will be plenty,” the carpenter told him. He took his saws from his sack, spread his tools on the ground, and hurried off to haul the lumber he needed to get to work.

When Joe returned from town late in the afternoon, his jaw dropped at the sight. There across the creek was a graceful wooden bridge with sturdy railings and a deck big enough to support a tractor or a truck or a wagon. And there on the other side of the bridge was his neighbor Paul waving and smiling. He crossed the bridge and grabbed Joe’s hand, shaking it up and down with abandon. “I have to say I don’t know what possessed you to have this bridge built after these last weeks of ugliness between us, but I am so glad you did. I’ve wondered and wondered how we could ever make a bridge over what happened, and dog gone it, you went and done it. Built a bridge right over it.” He shook his head in amazement.

Joe was stunned into silence, but he had a grin smeared all over his face. “T’wasn’t me,” he finally stuttered to his friend. “It was this here carpenter gent’s work.”

They turned to look at the carpenter who was packing up his tools. Joe called to him, “Please don’t go. I got several other projects for ya — you did a fine job on this one.”

The carpenter shook his head and smiled.  He shouldered his saws, picked up his tool box, and waved at the two friends. “I can’t stay,” he told them. “I’ve got other bridges to build.” And with those last words he disappeared over the hill.

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We live in a world that builds walls, but bridge building can be done by anyone–you don’t have to be a carpenter or an engineer. What kind of bridge can you build? A footbridge? A covered bridge? Or a glorious bridge that overcomes fear and unforgiveness? Imitate the carpenter–love your neighbor and build a bridge, not a wall.

This story has been around for a long time, mostly as Author Unknown. I found it as “Old Joe and the Carpenter” in Thirty-Three Multicultural Tales to Tell by Pleasant DeSpain. Margaret Read MacDonald published a version by the same name in Peace Tales. When I searched the internet I found an original version–much longer and more colorful–as a story On the Hills and Everywhere written by Manly Wade Wellman (ca. 1956) in a book of stories called John the Balladeer.  This is my own version. 

18 for ’18

This is my 6th annual New Year’s post with additions for 2018.  I wasn’t going to do this again; six years seemed like plenty. Then I read through it and thought that this year needs a peace, love, and can’t-we-all-just-get-along? post more than any other year I’ve lived through. Except maybe 1968… (eh, was that really fifty years ago?)

So I wish you all peace, love, and a year of forgiving and forgetting.  Happy 2018 everyone — and thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing my little place in cyberspace.

There are two kinds of people in the world:

1. those who would go to Times Square for New Year’s Eve, and those who couldn’t be paid enough to go…

Sunrise from our bedroom windows

Sunrise from our bedroom windows

2. those who go out for New Year’s Eve, and those who stay home…

steak, burgundy mushrooms, asparagus

3. those who would rehab an old vacant house, and those who would look for a new one instead…

boards

4. Cat-lovers and Dog-lovers…

Cat in the Christmas tree

5. Savers and Pitchers…
pitchers

6. Dreamers and Doers…

7. those who believe and those who scoff…

Micah 6:*

8. those who stay, and those who go…

9. those who love snow, and those who don’t…

10. those who take naps, and those who feel superior to those who take naps…

Cat nap

11. those who love city streets, and those who love country roads…

12. those who look up and those who look down…

13. those who eat their fruits and vegetables, and those who eat their meat’n potatoes…

green tomato salsa

14. those whose glass is half-empty and those whose glass is half-full…

Stag's Leap winery

15. those who work for pay and those who work for love; and those who are blessed to do both at the same time…

Mr. H.C's truck

Mr. H.C’s truck

16. those who believe santa is a democrat, those who believe santa is a  republican, and those who believe santa should just start a third party for the rest of us — the Dempublicans? The Republicrats? (Surely he would get more than just my vote…)

17. Those who love to go shopping and those who would rather eat worms than go to a Walmart.

18. Flitterers and Plodders…

At different times in our lives, we can be any of these. (Well, probably not too many of us would admit to being that turtle…)
Me? I have been all these — a city lover, a country girl; a scoffer, a believer; an optimist, a pessimist; a cat-lover, a dog-lover; a dreamer, a doer; a shopper and a worm-eater…(Though I would have to be paid a lot of cash to go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve.)
Can we remember this?
Can we remember that our differences make this beautiful world what it is?
Can we let go of our prejudices, our prides, our preconceptions, our (fill in the blank here)… and just love each other?

May grace, peace, and joy be yours in abundance in 2018.

Christmas angel