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…

thirty biblical reasons to vote democratic in 2020: #21 Knowing History

“For inquire now of bygone generations, and consider what their ancestors have found; for we are but of yesterday and we know nothing, for our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?”Job 8:8-10 (NRSV)

…or in the modern words of Winston Churchill “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” It was originally a quote from George Santayana in the book A Life of Reason, published in 1905. Studying history is necessary if we do not want to repeat past mistakes. Knowing history is important for everyone, but especially for a leader.

David Cutler, a high school history teacher writes in Trump: an embarrassing history student, “I’m embarrassed when our commander-in-chief speaks ignorantly of the past — contorting the truth to accomplish political goals or rally his base…”

The president has made glaring mistake after awful gaffe after embarrassing blunder about commonly known historical and geographical facts. His mistakes have encouraged several journalists to suggest that the presidency should require a competency test:

There’s a reason society requires the credentialing of people who make highly consequential decisions — lawyers through bar exams, doctors through board certifications and state licensing procedures. It’s the same reason airlines don’t put untrained pilots in the cockpit and pray that they’re quick learners; pilots pass rigorous tests of competence long before they start moving passengers. And yet the most critical job on earth has no test for measuring what other professions call “job knowledge.”

…and later in the article, Chris Gay writes, “If it’s reasonable to worry about cognitive decline in older candidates because the stakes are so high, isn’t it reasonable to worry about civic, economic, and — above all — historical illiteracy for the same reason?” (from “No President Left Behind: Trump’s Lack of Basic Literacy and the Consequences.”)

Beyond the basic historical and geographical facts that the president gets wrong, even more worrying is not being able to distinguish the democratic imperatives that have been handed down from the founding of the nation. He has no sense of the tradition, the dignity, or the statesmanship of the office of the presidency.

It’s clear from the verse above from Job, that we are instructed to learn from our ancestors. Our lives are just a shadow; if we don’t build on the knowledge that already exists, what will we know?


thirty biblical reasons to vote democratic in 2020: #19 Honesty

“Anyone who can be trusted in little matters can also be trusted in important matters. But anyone who is dishonest in little matters will be dishonest in important matters.” — Luke 16:10 (CEV)

Little lies turn into big lies. If you are dishonest about little things, you are dishonest about big things.

In September of 2019 the President said in a tweet that Hurricane Dorian would likely hit Alabama, so residents of Alabama should be cautious.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

A few minutes later the National Weather Service felt compelled to correct what the president had erroneously said. (After all, it is their job to predict weather as accurately as possible). So they corrected the president, saying that no, actually, Hurricane Dorian was not expected to hit Alabama. It was just a small error that most people would just shrug off when it was found to be false. Use humor, admit you were wrong, no big deal. But the president wouldn’t or couldn’t let it go, even going so far as bringing out a doctored map, a few days later, insisting that the original forecast included Alabama.

You can read about the whole sorry episode here: https://amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/597469/

It isn’t my point to bring up old news; the point is the bible verse from Luke that says, if one is dishonest in a small thing, one will be dishonest in the big things.