Jerusalem’s Old City Blues

Just back from a nearly 2-week sojourn in Jerusalem accompanied by my daughter. An overall impression? While Israel’s largest city thrives, the old walled city – historic Jerusalem – lags behind.

Yes, there are still boatloads of tourists. And plenty of places to drop cash on King David Street stepping down from the Jaffa Gate, and the antiquities shops along the Via Dolorosa. Not to mention the Arab shopping districts of El Wad and Suq Khan leading off from the Damascus Gate – or a great Armenian tavern in the otherwise forbidding Armenian Quarter.

What’s going on?

Talking to shopkeepers, business is down. The random attacks of late 2015 reinforced the sense of the Old City as unsafe – a perception that has carried forward to today. Especially at night, there is little going on except at the Jaffa Gate or on King David. The shops and restaurants at the Muristan near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher close up as the sun goes down.

The Jewish Quarter is the exception. Retail is new (as with recent storefront development on the old Roman cardo) and there is a great, always active public gathering place near a central synagogue.

While Christians account for over half of tourists, tourist publications reportedly have shifted to more actively promote Jewish sites, de-emphasizing the Christian and Muslim attractions.

And with the exception of the Jewish cardo, the Old City feels, well, just dated! Not hip.

There are other factors at work, as well:

  • The tourist demographic is changing from American and western European to countries with less disposable income – places like Russia, the Philippines, Latin America, and China (the one notable exception regarding spending capacity).
  • Traditional shopping streets like King David are so congested with passersby it’s hard to stop and window shop.
  • Many purchases that could be made because of concerns about getting the goods through customs. Who wants to buy pepper and be interrogated about the substance at the Philadelphia airport? Or worry about legality of purchase of artifacts and their removal from Israel?
  • And while the walk through tight, ancient streets may be attractive at the start, it gets old quickly. For some, the lack of auto, taxi and transit access makes the walk in and through the Old City simply less competitive for retail traffic.
  • Conversely, streets of the Armenian Quarter and much of the Christian Quarter have little to no active street life – but are institutionalized enclaves, walled from the street.
  • The focus of Jerusalem shopping has shifted to nearby districts such as Ben Yehuda Street and the Mamilla Mall (just off the Jaffa Gate) – for tourists as well as locals.
  • For millennials, the action is not even in Jerusalem but Tel Aviv.
  • There is relatively little lodging directly in the old city except at the edges – depriving the district of the 24-hour vibe desired by hipsters and supportive of a more secure nighttime dining and entertainment environment.
  • Traditional bricks and mortar shopping is down generally as the internet takes a bigger bite and as consumers shift from buying merchandise to spending for experiences. For example, Jerusalem should be a perfect place to buy books. But who does, anymore?
  • And somehow Trump hangs over it all. Will he abandon the two-state solution? A deal-maker for better days ahead? Or incendiary?

What’s to be Done?

Well, probably not much – at least near term. Longer term, some ideas to think about:

  • More public open space, like the plaza now at Jaffa Gate and in the Jewish Quarter
  • People mover, transporting people, for example, from Jaffa Gate to area of the western wall.
  • Shifting the retail mix to include infotainment packages – not just the same old merchandise
  • Getting more nighttime dining and entertainment
  • More hostels and boutique lodging
  • Better packaging of Old City trip experiences (rather than as stand-alone destinations)

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For additional information, even insights, on jesustheheresy, check out the full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com

The Conservative, the Liberal, the One in the Middle

A tumultuous 2016 draws to a close. An uncertain 2017 lies ahead. Time to consider where we’ve been and where we may be going from the vantage point of the three who have defined this political year – radical conservative Donald Trump, the old liberal Bernie Sanders, and the one in the middle – the defeated presumptive front-runner Hillary Clinton.

And introduce three who define the religio-poltico shape of a much earlier era that still resonates today – conservative James brother to Jesus  of Nazareth, liberal Saul of Tarsus, and the war-horse in the middle – St. Peter of Capernaum.

What’s the Comparison?

Comparing three characters of biblical proportion with the trio that have dominated the political headlines of the last couple of years may seem a bit odd – perhaps forced. Bear with me and consider:

  • Of the leaders of the early Christian movement, Jesus’ brother James was a Johnny come lately. James criticizes his brother’s earthly ministry, yet somehow mysteriously ascends to leadership of the Jerusalem church as carefully alluded to by Luke the writer of the Acts of the Apostles. As later recounted by the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus, James climbed his way into but was then murdered by the establishment aristocracy. Mr. Trump similarly came out of nowhere to overturn the establishment of his party and the political correctness of the two coasts. A wealthy and privileged New Yorker, he yet remains an outsider scrapping his way to anointing as leader of the yet dominant nation on the globe. One difference: James fell to his antagonists while Donald (so far) has prevailed.
  • Yes, Paul was the liberal of his era – breaking the new found Christian movement free of its Jewish moorings. With a message that appealed to a Roman world hungry for authentic rather than tired and ineffectual spirituality. And like his modern counterpart Bernie Sanders, Paul pulled no punches – even advocating that those troublesome followers of James and Peter castrate themselves. The difference is that Paul’s message of a universal Christianity prevailed while Bernie’s socialist crusade has foundered – at least for now.
  • Then we have the front-runners who choked before getting to the finish line – tripping over flaws too big to ignore. As Jesus’ lead disciple, we know about Peter’s impetuous behavior – such as cutting off the ear of an officer come to arrest Jesus. There may have been worse – witness the demise of Ananias and Sapphira at the hands of Peter as the first leader of the post-resurrection church. In the fourth century, church leader John Chrysostom was forced to deny rumors that Peter may have had an active hand at least one of these deaths. While Hillary Clinton may not seem to be so openly brash, think throwing dishes at Bill Clinton over Monica and other trailer trash . Think Whitewater, conducting national business on a personal server, or maybe Vince Foster. Unending, whispered and not-so-whispered rumors.

Definitions

Before going further, it’s time to define the terms of engagement. Webster’s dictionary offers the following definitions for the terms liberal and conservative:

  • Liberal – “one who is open-minded or not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways …”
  • Conservative – “believing in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society …”

In short, the conservative is ever glancing in the rear-view mirror; the liberal looks and acts forward. 

So, What are the Take-Aways?

At first blush, there is no apparent rhyme or reason to the determination of whether the conservative, liberal or one in the middle will prevail. Fate seems so fickle, blown about by the moods of the moment combined with the quirks of the respective lead personalities:

  • The reactionary movement of the Donald has carried the day today – although the much earlier conservatism of James lost out despite the familial connection with the anointed one – the Savior.
  • The liberalizing and liberating New Testament theology of Saul (renamed Paul) prevailed because it played to the interests of the Roman populace for a more believable deity than the shopworn gods of the Greeks and Romans. Two millennia later, Bernie’s socialist ideals would play well to millennials feeling betrayed by their elders – but not enough to carry the day (at least not yet).
  • The losers then and now were the middle of the road types – a Peter who vacillated between adhering to Judaism versus opening to Gentiles and a Hillary who has wavered on issues ranging from global trade to support and then opposition to the Iraq war.
  • In ascendant periods, middle of the road types represent continuity combined with the aura of all boats rising together. Think Peter as lead disciple during Jesus’ ministry continuing forward for awhile as leader of the pack once his master had departed the earthly scene. In the U.S., think Eisenhower as the victorious WWII general leading a homogeneous nation during the period of American ascendancy in the 1950s. Or consider Hillary’s precursor in husband Bill as the New Democrat in the wake of the post-Soviet 1990s.

But in uncertain and troubled times, the mood swings to more extreme options. The only question is whether the populist conservative or liberal plays better to the temper of our times. For Christianity, liberality won out because it played to a much larger market – the whole Roman empire, not just one isolated province. In 2016, the reactionary (but not fully traditional) conservative solution won out because the populace found itself betrayed by the patronizing liberalism of two Obama administrations. As many working class Americans and millennials have perceived. the emperor is wearing no clothes.

In the End, Liberalism Wins

Does the example of Paul or that of Mr. Trump better represent likely long-term outcomes? For all of the arrogance and independent of any theological truth, the Pauls of this world always win out in the end. Inclusion beats parochial self-interest. Serving the common good is better politics than propping up the cultural and economic elites. And despite twists and turns along the way, the world of today is better than that of renaissance Europe,the Greco-Roman empires or even earlier civilizations whether on the scale of the Egyptians or nomadic tribes from Africa to the Americas.

For better or worse, there are two reasons why liberals inevitably beat out their more conservative counterparts:

  • The first reason is empirical. Despite jarring cyclical swings between liberality and retrenchment, the long-term march is upward – toward the ever-beckoning city on a hill. The world is a better place to live today than at any time in recorded human history. And so long as we survive our own suicidal tendencies, life 100 years from now will be even better than today.
  • The second reason is spiritual. The divine embodies the discordant mix of mercy and judgment. Individually and culturally, we are responsible for our actions. But in the end, mercy trumps judgment. And as Jesus would say: “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

If this view is correct, President-elect Trump’s victory may be short-lived. For us conservatives, now is the time for some thorough house-cleaning. Whether or not Mr. Trump is the man for the job remains to be seen.

Without fail, liberalism will live to again carry the day. This will happen when liberals regroup to again embrace rather than patronize the needs, the preferences, the aspirations of all humanity – not just the imperatives of like minded elites.

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For additional information, even insights, on jesustheheresy, check out the full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com

Jesus vs Trump – On Trade (Part 2)

In the wake of the November election, I wrote that President-elect Trump’s opposition to free global trade was not only bad economics but downright immoral. Looking back to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the case is made that if The Donald is to define neighborly based on America first (to the exclusion or detriment of our extended neighbor network), then he’s missed the point of what the Christ advocated.

The message of Jesus is clear. Eternity belongs to the neighborly – even when it may cost to be neighborly. And in the end, squeezing our global neighbors will prove counterproductive. The road kill we pass by will inevitably include our own.

In this sequel to the earlier blog, a counterargument is made from another event during Jesus’ ministry. That counterclaim is that Jesus argued that taking care of your own comes before taking care of the alien, the other. Is Jesus contradicting himself? Or How are these two seemingly opposed viewpoints to be reconciled? And what practical advice can be drawn for application to the steps that Mr. Trump may take upon inauguration.

And was asked in the first installment of this blog discussion, the question is posed: What would Jesus say about being pro- or anti-trade? 

Jesus A Racist?

For a different perspective on how the Christ – the anointed one – might react we look not to a parable but to perhaps the most perplexing encounter that Jesus has with a stranger as recorded in the Christian New Testament. As recounted by the gospels of Matthew and Mark, this is Jesus’ encounter with a Gentile woman from the non-Jewish area of Tyre and Sidon (in present day Lebanon). Jesus deliberately left communities in the Galilee with Jewish population to venture into less familiar Gentile territory. He finds and enters a house where he could be incognito. But alas, his whereabouts are soon discovered – by a women desperate to find a cure for her demon possessed daughter.

The exchange that then unfolds between the male rabbi and the female foreigner is nothing short of astounding:

  • The Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.
  • Jesus doesn’t answer – but ignores this foreigner, this alien.
  • Jesus’ disciples pile on, urging Jesus to “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”
  • Then to make sure the welcome mat is withdrawn, Jesus for once supports the logic of his disciples, saying: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
    Implication: Preferred access to God’s kingdom is for the Jewish population to the exclusion of all others.
  • The woman tries again, calling out to him: “Lord, help us.”
  • At this point, the Savior of the universe comes across as more than a little bit perturbed, answering: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Meaning little bitches, or at best little puppies. The debate over what Jesus meant rages down over 20 centuries. What we do know is that dogs were not man’s best friend in Jewish culture – but were low on the animal pecking order. As the Proverbs say, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, So a fool repeats his folly.”
  • In today’s world, Jesus remark would be taken as blatantly racist, certainly not politically correct. But this alien woman holds her ground, bypasses the insult, and responds with even a bit of good humor: “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
  • She has the better of the exchange and Jesus caves: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed “that very hour.”

So, What Does this Have to do with Donald Trump & Global Trade?

Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus Christ – or Donald Trump. Do you see much difference?

  • Both demean the foreigner
  • Both espouse taking care of the people at home first
  • Both deliberatly insult the one(s) who come across as their adversary
  • Both engage in what at least appears to be racist rhetoric
  • And both are engaged in no holds barred negotiation.

Jesus makes a 180° turn, yielding to the woman’s better reasoned case. The Donald has shown, in some cases, similar flexibility (witness his bromances with Dr. Ben Carson, maybe even Mitt Romney). Could he cave on trade as well?

And the Moral of the Story Is …

Put aside the apparent put-downs, the seeming racism, the disingenuous baiting of the audience, the blatant inequity of parochialism. Admittedly, these are thorny moral questions. But morality may be irrelevant to outcome.

What is on display with Jesus  and Mr. Trump is the willingness, the seeming reckless abandon, to push for resolution that would not have been possible without an adversarial encounter.

And What does this Mean for the Global Community?

Based on the parable of the Good Samaritan,  I have argued that President-elect Trump’s opposition to free global trade is not only bad economics but downright immoral. How is the example of the caring Good Samaritan to be reconciled with the image of a grasping Canaanite woman and her belligerent all-powerful adversary?

The answer comes down to the distinction between free trade and fair trade:

  • The example of the Good Samaritan speaks loudly for free trade – a world where every nation, every person is our neighbor.
  • The example of the Canaanite woman speaks volumes for fair trade – if you’re going to get, you have to give.

So, it is for Mr. Trump. Uphold the global community. Reward those who can do more for less – for improved standard of living and reduced environmental footprint.

Concurrently, push without ceasing for exchange that recognizes the full cost versus benefit for all transacting parties.

And if it all involves a bit of hard-edged politics along the way, so be it.

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Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician (Canaanite) Woman (Matthew 15:21-28, NKJV)

Then Jesus went out from there (around the Sea of Galilee) and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

But He answered her not a word.

And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”

But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

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For the first installment (Part 1) of Jesus vs. Trump on Trade, click: https://jesustheheresy.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/jesus-vs-trump-on-trade

And for additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com

Jesus vs. Trump – On Trade

President-elect Donald Trump ran a campaign focused on scrapping current and pending trade agreements, and increasing tariffs on imported goods from countries like Mexico and China. It’s all part of an America First approach to doing business domestically and globally.

The arguments over trade are  being made on economic grounds. Free traders articulate the case that everyone is better off when people in each part of the world produce and sell what they’re best at doing. Those who would retreat from trade point to perceived and real loss of American jobs to other countries – especially in manufacturing.

But to date, few consider whether not just economic but more fundamental moral issues are at stake. Is it moral or immoral to say I will no longer buy from the country next door – or even half a world away?

And so the question is posed: What would Jesus say about being pro- or anti-trade? 

The short answer: Jesus is a free-trader. And not on primarily economic but rather on moral grounds.

Trump is wrong. So are fellow travelers Hillary and Bernie. Shutting down free trade is not just bad economics, it’s downright immoral.

Even if it could work, a beggar my neighbor world where my counterpart in China or Korea or Vietnam loses his or her job so I can (maybe) keep mine is helping is certainly not making human-kind better. But rather, more impoverished.

Jesus’ Good Neighbor World

Does Jesus have anything to say that bears on the morality of free versus restricted commerce? Very simply, it’s all to be found in the most famous story ever told by Jesus – the parable of the Good Samaritan.

If nothing else, Jesus is a story teller. In this case, the impetus for Jesus to tell the parable of the so-called Good Samaritan comes from Jesus’ interaction with a lawyer – a trained debater who wants to test the God-man by asking a basic question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds not with an answer but with a question of his own: “what is written in the law?”

As a legal question, the lawyer quickly gives a rote legal answer about loving the Lord your God with all your heart … and loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus indicates the lawyer has passed His test: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But rather than being shown up by an  itinerant Savior, the lawyer presses the point by asking a definitional question: “And who is my neighbor?” A bit like Bill Clinton before a grand jury parsing out “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Jesus is more than game. He defines “neighbor” not as Webster’s or Wikipedia might do it, but with a story. And to refresh, here are the essential points:

  • A man is robbed and left half dead.
  • The first people to come across the beaten man are a priest and a temple helper, agents of a supposedly compassionate faith. Neither stops to help but stay away as far as possible.
  • Next comes a Samaritan, a low life in the eyes of the first century Jewish elite. But the Samaritan stops, treats the wounds, takes the victim to an inn, even pays for about 24 days of lodging during which time the wounds can heal. The Samaritaan even says he’ll pay more if the tab runs higher.

Here, Jesus’ story ends – as he focuses back on the lawyer to ask a pivotal question: “(who) was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer has no choice but to answer the obvious: “The one who showed him mercy.” Or as another New Testament translation puts it: “The one who helped him.”

And then comes the master’s punchline: “Go and do likewise.”

The World of Trump vs. Jesus

America’s president-elect is like the priest or the temple helper who passes as far as possible from the wounded, the “losers” of this universe. Perhaps a bit more charitably, The Donald might first go over, pull out the wounded’s ID to verify if this victim is native born – preferably one who voted for him on November 8.

For the president-elect, a woman or man is a neighbor only if bred and born in the U.S. For Jesus, the neighbor was the Samaritan – of a different ethnicity, a different religion, a different nation. For Jesus, our neighbor is as much the person in the Vietnamese footwear manufacturing shop or the Indian call center as it is the steelworker in Ohio or aircraft manufacturer in Seattle.

For Jesus, our neighbor is not only the person next door but the individual, family, nation half a world away. Our neighbor is anybody with whom we interact or affect – wittingly or otherwise.

The arbitrary restriction of trade would mean that the person or nation who can do the most for the least is cut out of the action – in favor of the person, business or nation that will do the least for more. Everyone loses. The productive soul that could do it best is displaced, impovrished, beaten. And the less productive entity gets its just reward by paying more for the same (or perhaps inferior) product, resulting in a reduced standard of living, especially for those of the most limited means.

There is a case to be made for free trade that is also fair trade – no selling below cost, no stealing someone else’s invention, no lying or cheating to make the sale. Jesus speaks favorably of those who play by the rules and work or invest for positive, predictable return.

But for those displaced by American industries no longer competitive, consider again the words of Jesus when he admonishes: “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum (or China), do also here in Your country (state, city, rust-belt – as the case may be.)” No people, no country is entitled to rest on its laurels. Eachand every  day is a fresh new occasion to prove oneself worthy in the global marketplace of goods, services, ideas and values. 

Conclusion

There are two questions the lawyer asks. #1 – what can I do to inherit (not earn) never ending life? Jesus’ answer: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Lawyer question #2 – who is my neighbor? Jesus’ answer: It’s anyone whose path I cross – whether intentionally or inadvertently.

In other words: I need to be prepared buy from or sell to the worker halfway around the world on similar terms as I would buy or sell from my immediate family member, co-worker, or store down the street. And to give each the same measure of respect.

The bottom line: if The Donald is to define neighborly based on America first (to the exclusion or detriment of our extended neighbor network), then he’s missed the point of what The Christ advocated. The message of Jesus is clear. Eternity belongs to the neighborly – even when it may cost to be neighborly.

In the end, squeezing our global neighbors will prove counterproductive. The road kill we pass by will inevitably include our own.

So come, listen to Jesus’ story, again and yet again. And then, act accordingly.

Rather than beggar thy neighbor; how about assist and enrich the neighbor – whether that neighbor be Mexican, Canadian, Indo-Chinese, Indian, African, Russian, Kurdish, or …

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The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37, NRSV)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite (temple helper), when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii (paying for 24 days lodging), gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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For additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com

Let my people go …

The people of the U.S. have spoken. And the electors will soon follow:

As Moses implored the Pharaoh of Egypt repeatedly: “Let my people go…

Moses’ campaign pleas were made on behalf of Israelites who believed in their leader as well as those who though this aged murderer was leading them to disaster.

President-elect Trump has just made a mockery of the elites of the U.S. – the pollsters, the media, the high-tech gurus, the entertainers, the Wall Street tycoons, the educators and those inside the Beltway.

The president-elect may be a coarse buffoon but he knows his people. He has made promises impossible to keep, but he has given hope to those screwed over by the last decade or more. Even as the elites have come to control more of the goodies while the “deplorables” work harder and receive less – except the patronizing derision of their new techno masters.

Moses called out: ‘”Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.”
The Donald cries out: “Let my people go, that they may celebrate the return of hope in the wilderness of a depleted middle America.”

Shame on the elites for dumping on those who made America great!

And the Trump cries out: “Let my people go, to work again in jobs that provide a livable income and a sense of self-worth in life.”

“Let my people go, to worship the God of their fathers and mothers, without fear of censorship or exclusion from the circles of community leadership and authority.”

“Let my people go, to rebuild families torn apart by underemployment, substance abuse, and an overweening state that parses out social welfare to keep the masses fat, satiated, and compliant.”

“Let my people go, to grab their share of capitalism’s booty and put the elites on notice that the thievery of arrogant liberalism is now cut short.”

As Jesus would say, “the first will be last, and the last will be first.” And that’s justice.

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For additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: jesustheheresy.com

Jesus the Boomer?

A columnist for the Washington Post, Dana Milbank, has recently posted a pre-election op-ed with the headline: “Baby boomers, you’ve done enough; it’s Generation X’s turn.”

The columnist’s invective is strong and spot on. While much of his fire is aimed at Donald Trump, much the same could be said of fellow baby boomer Hilary Clinton. As Milbank says: “Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding. When they got power, they created polarization and gridlock from both sides. Though Vietnam War-protesting boomers got the attention, their peers on the right were just as ideological, creating the religious right.”

Beyond the harsh condemnation of the baby boom generation, Milbank offers a an insightful categorization of generational patterns that “repeat over time.” And jesustheheresy.com asks the question: could there have been a similar patterns of intra- and inter-generational conflict much earlier – for example, dating to the time of Jesus’ sojourn two millennia  back?

Generational Patterns

Consider first the four generational descriptions offered up by Milbank:

  • The Civics – most recently epitomized by those termed as the Greatest Generation, born in the first 2-3 decades of  the 1900s, serving on the front lines in World War II and building the post-war America of Leave it to Beaver.
  • The Adaptives – a much smaller cohort coming of age during the Depression and World War II, also known as the Silent Generation. 
  • The Idealists – aka today’s Baby Boomers born amid the great population explosion of 1946-64.
    Note: Donald Trump was born in 1946; Hilary Clinton in 1947.
  • The Reactives – today comprising the group known as Generation X, a much smaller cohort in numbers but now with the task to “clean up idealists’ messes.”

Milbank observes that idealists  are responsible for previous messes throughout American history. Idealistic generations led us into the U.S. Civil war, followed by a similar generation leading into the Great Depression, and with the latest incarnation of idealists giving us everything from civil disobedience in the 1960s to the financial collapse of 2008 and ensuing Great Recession.

But our columnist also offers hope via the next up-and-coming generation of Millennials. If history repeats itself, it will be today’s twenty-somethings who will take the helm as the next installment of Civics, building on the clean-up by Gen X of the now fractured American polity.

What Generation Jesus?

Can the American experience be translated back into the era of 1st century Palestine? Consider the evidence that Jesus’ generation may serve as a remarkable forerunner of today’s baby boomer set:

  • Start with The Civics – some of the greatest builders and power players the world has ever known – Caesar Augustus, Marc Antony, Cleopatra, Herod the Great – all born between about 63 and 83 BC. Just as the Civics of the last century produced leaders of great good (Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Marshall), so this generation also produced those of great evil (as with Hitler and Stalin). Much the same could be said of the Civics that preceded Christ.
  • Then look for the Adaptives – a relatively silent generation then as well as more recently. Examples of persons born from the 50s to 20s BC include the conservative Jewish philosophical leaders Shammai (a counterpoint to the older and more liberal Hillel), Johanan ben Zakai (a primary contributor to the core text of Rabbinical Judaism after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD), and Philo (Jewish Hellenistic philosopher). Another born with this generation was the man who would become Emperor Tiberius during Jesus adulthood (and who retreated from the rigors of imperial governance for the isle of Capri after his own mid-life crisis).
  • Now we come to the Idealists – persons born from about 20 BC to the first decade of the common era – including Jesus, Jesus’ mother Mary (at the older end of the same generation), the disciples, Paul the apostle, and the birth of the Jewish zealot movement.
  • Finally, there are the Reactives – those born up to about 30 AD including King Herod Agrippa II (respected by Paul) and the Roman General and future Emperor Vespasian (who initially led the fight to suppress the Jewish insurrection against Rome starting 66-67 AD).

As is potentially the case with today’s Millennials who follow in the footsteps of America’s Greatest Generaion, so there was a new round of Civics born in the Mediterranean region in the decade of the 30s (about or just after the time of the crucifixion of Jesus). Examples are Luke (the writer of a gospel and the Acts of the Apostles), Josephus (Jewish general turned historian), and Emperor Titus (son of Vespasian, conquerer of Jerusalem and acclaimed final builder of the Roman Coliseum).

The Road Ahead

Despite strong condemnation of today’s baby boom generation, columnist Milbank concludes as bullish on prospects for a better world – as the reins of leadership and power are inevitably transferred from “narcissitic” boomers to Generation X and then the Millennials.

But just how rosy is that future? Yes, America patched up the wounds of the Civil War over the decades that followed. And, after another generation of idealists led us into the Great Depression, a world war pulled us out – establishing American preeminence that only now is beginning to fade. In both instances, the case can be made that the U.S. ended up better than before – despite the pain and suffering in-between.

But there is a darker scenario to consider – the experience of the 1st century AD. Rome fared well but first century Judea did not survive its spell of what Milbank terms as “hyper-partisanship and polarization and gridlock.” Rather than solving their own problems, the cities of Judea and Galilee were destroyed and the population dispersed – waiting nearly 1,900 years for the long awaited re-establishment  of a Jewish state in Israel. Two millennia earlier, the ultimate idealist – Jesus of Nazareth – saw it all coming in advance but stepped aside for history to take its own course.

As an American nation and as a global community, we may get lucky again – survive, heal and rebuild from the nasty divides engendered by the Clinton-Trump campaigns – not to mention all the rocky battles ahead. A positive outcome is by no means assured. The downside risk is that this American experiment fails; that democracy is proven as not sustainable. The Gen X’ers may start but not finish their clean-up of Boomer inflicted wounds on each other and the nations. Millennials will never get their chance to rebuild anew. And the world will be the worse for it.

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Locker Room Trash Talk vs. Illicit Sex

Much is made about revelations about Donald Trump’s boasting of his power to seduce women. But in the debate of October 9, the Donald takes what he advocates as the higher ground. In other words, better to talk a demeaning game than to act on the talk.

Or as he put it during the debate, “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse – mine are words. His was action,” Trump goes on: “Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously.”

How Would Jesus Respond?

Nothing directly to the sad and sordid details of this low-life debate. But yet Jesus does yet have something to say that helps frame a Christian response to this Faustian question. As recorded by the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus offers a story – a parable – about two sons and their obedience to their father.

The question addressed by Jesus is: Is it better to walk the walk or talk the talk? Here’s what the master has to say:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21:28-31)

In effect, Jesus gives more credence to the guy who doesn’t act on his trash talk than to the one who talks a good game but then acts despicably.

Applied to the saga of Donald Trump vs. Bill Clinton – Donald is on the morally higher ground if he did not act on his demeaning talk than Bill Clinton if he did engage in multiple affairs despite protestations to the contrary. And Hilary is complicit by her trash talking those women who were victimized.

All of this assumes, of course, that the Donald did not force women against their will. If it is proven that he did, then Donald’s actions are the more damnable.