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Angels on my doorstep
Angels at my door
The setting. And, names.
It’s Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day. The holiest day of the years. I’m home. I’m in my backyard in a tent, spending the day contemplating all of it.
This has been my practice for the past 10+ years. To not do work. To sit in a tent in my backyard. Fasting. Contemplating.
But, the dog is barking up a storm. Someone is there. And whoever it is isn’t going away. So I go to the front door and see.
I recognize one of the ladies. Not the other. I look in the coat closet but I can’t find my list of the door-to-door God-folk: names, date of visit, topics discussed.
I decide to go for the honest approach.
“I’m so sorry, my friend, I just can’t remember your name.”
“Tina,” she says, with a smile of teeth and a twinkle in her eye.
“And your friend?”
“Louise,” Tina answers. “She’s with me visiting our friends in the neighborhood today.”
I make quick associations in my mind to remember their names. Thelma and Louise. Which works, but the first one’s name isn’t Thelma, it’s Tina – which is the name of one of my favorite students of all time – the gal with the brilliant mind and gorgeous hair.
I’m ready to engage.
Tina takes from her well worn bag a color newsprint handout.
In large white lettering hovers over the backdrop a lush garden’s floor. A long haired pre-pubescent child is sitting, looking up as though he too is wondering the question above the jungle-forest scene.
This is the question: “Does God Care About You?”
We engage in a two-sided script she recites based on a binary answers I am prompted to provide.
I’m bored a few rounds in.
When she hands me the booklet, I interrupt the flow and tell her I have a question.
“Tina, I have a question.”
“What is it?”
“Is the ‘you’ in the question now ‘you’ or is it still ‘me’ – because now that I’m holding it, it seems to be asking about you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When you held this paper and asked me ‘Does God Care About You?’ I answered from my point of view. But, now that I’m holding it, it asks, ‘Does God Care About You?’ which is you, Tina, not me, Brian.”
“Oh God loves me,” Tina exclaims with a chuckle.
“Me too,” I say. It amazing how disarming it is to tell religious salespeople that you believe God loves you.
I motion towards Louise, “How about you, Louise?”
“He loves me.” Those are the only words that I hear from Louise.
I ignore the patriarchal gendering of the divine and instead pause in the beautiful moment of silence, a twinkling of all of our eyes in the fall sunlight that day.
After the moment passes, Tina starts up again:
“I would like to read a piece of Scripture and hear your reaction to it. It’s Peter 5:6-7.”
I like the numbers. Five, six, seven. I hope I will like the verse because it will be easy to recall the chapter and verse. Five, six, seven.
If you didn’t know about the world of Bible believers, you have to site chapter and verse to be eligible to be in conversation with some of them. So, it’s good to know a few. If you want to know more about how to speak to Biblical minded folk, please listen to the podcast.
New World Translation (NWT)
The scripture is about turning over our anxiety to God and that God is glad to redeem us from our anxiety.
I love that.
I didn’t know that was in the Bible.
I’ll quote that.
Time out, liberals.
I will talk more about the quote in a moment.
But, I want to point out two things about reading and quoting from the Bible that just happened.
I hear exasperated liberals bemoan from time to time “Why don’t those people look a verse ahead and a verse below to see at the context of the passage they are quoting?”
We press, “How can you hold tightly to homosexuality being a sin (which it isn’t) when chapters before are about not eating shellfish and you are chowing down at Red Lobster?”
We ask people who quote Leviticus 20:13 (homosexual acts) to look at Leviticus 19:19 (prohibiting mixing linen and wool) and 11:9-12 (prohibiting eating shellfish). And, we ask about them, “Why don’t they look at the context!?”
Let me ask you, did you think of looking at the context of the Peter quote?
I doubt it. Why not? Because you felt there was no need to. The passage from the Bible seemed to make sense without context. So, why look?
They are just doing the same not looking.
With regard to quoting the Bible, are you certain that the words quoted are the best translation? I wonder this. Because, what word in Greek was used that we translated into English as ‘anxiety’? Doesn’t the word anxiety sounds a little modern? (Note: μέριμναν is only used once in the Bible, and it’s here; which makes it hard to know exactly what it means. It’s related to the Greek words for divided and fractured.)
Again, it doesn’t matter to us because the passage makes sense as it is.
Why don’t literalists look at the original meaning of words?
Answer: cause they like the verse the way it’s written.
Back to the point
This passage from Peter, if taken out of context or mistranslated still is a great passage because it points towards something that makes sense to us.
We don’t need our anxiety. They don’t help us.
We can and that we should throw our anxieties at God.
The first step of every 12-step program is exactly that – to free ourselves from our anxieties by turning them over to the will of God as we best understand that Gee-oh-dee word.
This is a powerful idea.
Not something that can always be done. There are anxieties that must be lived through. You can’t just walk away from trauma saying, “Hey-ho, let me move on.” Our brains just don’t work like that.
But, there is a time.
There is a time when we have done our mourning, when we have learned all of the lessons that we need to have learned – there comes a time when the anxiety is behind us, in front of us, and on all sides of us – and, in a moment like when you resign yourself to your surgeons and put your life into their hands – that we can let go. There are beautiful moments that we have all had when we have been able to turn our problems over to (the) God (of our understanding). When we experience religion. When we surrender. When our anxieties are burned up.
Louise and Tina brought me this good news on Yom Kippur morning: God has no need for me to be anxious. Two angels of God stood on my porch reminding me I am a part of God’s creation.
Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer
HELLO, JEWS My four-year incarnation as a rabbi in the form most people would recognize began in 1997. I stood in front of 750-plus people to lead High Holy Day services at Temple Judea in Tarzana, California. This wealthy suburb of 40,000 named for the estate of...