30 April 2015

Responding to Every Request for a Donation

I am both a giver and receiver of donations. This is as it should be, in my estimation.
       Some of us who raise funds for worthy causes believe that we need to look and sound "poor" or "needy," and being generous does not lend to that. The conventional wisdom is that if people see that we donate to other causes they will not give to ours.
       Well if that is the case I would prefer that people not donate to my causes and I can continue to give generously.
       The fact is that I actually LIKE asking people to give money to causes that I believe in, those that are seeking to make a positive impact in the world. I even like asking people to give for my personal support. Yes, I'm weird!
       We who are able also NEED to give generously, for many reasons. Among them is that we have the tendency to create idols out of possessions and pay checks and our stuff!
       Well, as someone who raises funds for a couple different causes, I have to deal with a lot of non-responses. I send out an email or letter and hear nothing from people. The silence is deafening!
       The only thing worse than silence is when someone says they will give and they don't. Then I send a reminder, and another one. Then I feel like I am stalking them. Ugh!
       So let me put on my "donor" hat again and seek to "be the change that I want to see happen!" (as Ghandi said) As much as possible, I try to respond to every personal request for a donation. Even if I have to say no to the person or organization, I want to encourage them in some way. I say things like this:
"Thank you for asking me to contribute to your cause. I won't be able to this time, but I think your work is important. Press on in doing good."
       I know that it can sound or feel patronizing to the person, but I would prefer that risk to simply saying nothing to them and leaving them in a fog.
       We in the West have an epidemic of fear and obsession with personal security. The way we deal with this fear and security "need" is to hold onto money, homes, comforts. They make us feel (falsely) more safe and secure. I do it, you do it. Most people do it.
       We need to become more obsessed with giving and generosity and less obsessed with security.
       It needs to start with me.
       It needs to start today.

27 April 2015

Eulogy: Words to Remember My Father

We had a beautiful memorial service for my dad at Beth Yeshua Congregation in Plainview, New York yesterday. These were the words I shared with everyone there:

My father was what I call the unlikely believer in God.
… the unlikely survivor – of a bad childhood
… the unlikely survivor of World War II
He was also the unlikely leader …
the unlikely person to help others…
And mostly, the unlikely follower of God.
For a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, that is quite the unlikely journey!
Mom and dad visited my family when we lived in Holland for a decade. They visited many times actually, often around Thanksgiving.
Frequently we invited dad to come along to activities with our community – a Christian church community. In the early years dad politely declined.
You see, dad wrestled with faith, and God,  and belief - as most of us do at times. He did not want to be a hypocrite, which I respected.
“I was born a Jew, I’m going to die a Jew,” dad would tell me, believing at the time that he would have to abandon being Jewish to believe in Jesus.
Two events in Holland when they visited began to show me a shift in dad’s heart and mind. The first was when our church needed to move locations, from one school to another. There was dad at 77 years old helping the sound techs and custodians schlep chairs, sound equipment, and children’s toys onto the moving truck! All of these 25-year-old strong Dutch guys marveled at dad’s energy!
The next day I was heading to church early in the morning and there was dad ready to go with me – a very new thing for him! I asked why and he said that the sound guys and custodians were his new-found friends. Dad walked into the new school where we had just moved as if he owned the place.
            The second event was when Susy and I had the privilege of baptizing mom at our church in Amsterdam. Here we were with 500 mostly young Dutch people watching as mom is baptized. Everyone cheers wildly as she comes out of the water. And there is dad right at the edge of the tub to help mom get out, hand her a towel, and carefully help her to walk back stage.
            Dad was unconvinced about faith at the time, but he was open and searching. And he leaned into seeking God.
            Dad had a lot to overcome to believe in a God who is good and gracious and forgives sins. It took him most of his 90 years.
            He was like the man who meets Jesus one day and exclaims, “I do belief! Help me in my unbelief!”
            Today we celebrate this unlikely follower of the Messiah, Y’shua.

15 April 2015

Why I Am Not "Sitting Shiva"

My father, Marty Newman, died three days ago on April 12, 2015. He was 90 years old when he breathed his final breath.
       I am not "sitting shiva" this week, even though our family is Jewish and we want to be respectful of our traditions and customs.
       Jews "observe shiva" for the 7 days after a loved one dies. The purpose is to grieve and mourn the loss of the person, and is marked by several acts:
the mourners do not work during the week, all mirrors in the house are covered, mourners sit on low chairs below visitors (to show their lowly position and grief), a candle is lit in memory of the person, a black cloth which is ripped is customarily worn, and there is a daily prayer service in which the Mourner's Kaddish is said.
       All in all, "sitting shiva" is a somber, sullen experience. I remember going to my aunt and uncle's co-op apartment when my grandfather died and we all sat around speaking softly and "looking a bit like death warmed over," as my dad put it at the time.
       I am not sitting shiva because I do not feel somber and sullen about my father's death. Please allow me to explain! I am sad that I will never be able to pick up the phone and call my dad. We won't be able to talk about cars anymore, and I won't laugh at his hysterical stories about life. But all of that is about ME and not about him. This is my grief and loss, and I hope I can lean into this mourning process in the coming weeks and months.
       There is also a big part of me that smiles at my dad being free of pain and suffering (no more shortness of breath, no more losing his dentures!). Even more than that, I want to shout for joy at my dad being in the very presence of God and the Messiah, Y'shua. If you are Jewish reading this post you might think, "Uh-oh, Brian is being delusional! He's lost his mind!"
       But I haven't. I know that we Jews have resisted and rejected the idea that the Messiah has already come, and we have generally rejected that Jesus (Y'shua) is that Messiah. If my dad could say anything to us right now it would be, Believe it! Believe it that Jesus really was and is the promised Messiah of Israel! My dad knows it first hand now.
       So there is no compelling reason to sit shiva for me. I do not need to be in a state of somber depression over my dad's death.
       There is one aspect of the mourning process that I simply love. That is, saying the Mourner's Kaddish. Shortly after my mom called us on Sunday morning to say that dad had passed, I found myself reciting the prayer in Hebrew under my breath. For all of my years going to synagogue on Long Island, I did not know what that prayer meant in English. Now I do. It is all about God's greatness and goodness, which my father knows now to the full!

Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.
        May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.
       May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
       Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
       May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.

06 April 2015

Beware: Persian is Not Arab

It goes against my philosophical and theological framework to speak as I am about to regarding Iran, and the proposed nuclear agreement being brokered with Western powers.
       However, I have concerns (some serious) about the political agreement with Iran. My conservative friends may say that, at last, I am waking up to the "evil forces" at work in Iran. To be clear, I am not becoming hawkish about the U.S.'s involvement in the Middle East, and specifically with Iran. I AM hoping to point out three factors or dimensions to this issue that the Obama administration appears to be avoiding or ignoring.
  1. Persians are not Arabs. Arabs are localized and tribal, meaning that throughout history Arabs have turned on Arabs based on tribal and clan affiliation. Persians (Iranians) are far more monolithic and certainly the Iranian culture is the dominant force in the Persian world. They are unified which makes them more of a political (and military) force to be reckoned with in the Middle East.
  2. Understand the Power Structures. While I am not an expert on Iranian politics, I know enough that there are elected officials, who are chosen by the Iranian people, and there are the Ayatollahs who are not. Iran is a self-declared Islamic Republic, which means the Ayatollahs (the religious clerics) have more power than the popularly elected President and his appointed ministers. The Western governments have spent months and months negotiating with the elected officials of Iran, while the Ayatollahs have remained apart. This calls into question the legitimacy of the negotiations in the first place.
  3. Iran is Expansionist via Regional Influence. In the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 (which the Reagan Administration and many other governments did not care very much about) Iraq attacked Iran, and Iran defended itself. Modern Iran since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 has not proven to be expansionist in the sense of invading other countries. Unlike ISIS, It does not appear to want to conquer land. However, Iran has proven to be exceedingly meddling and destabilizing in the Middle East through fellow Shiite states and movements - Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and Hizbullah. No one can deny the Iranians' covert operations and sectarian divide they have exploited with Sunni Muslim states.
My good friends on the side of "give peace a chance" will say that the United States meddles and destabilizes in the region as much as Iran. And you are correct in saying that. However, my father taught me that "two wrongs do not make a right!" We can speak out against Iran's meddling and also call the U.S. government to account for its meddling.

The deal with Iran is bad on its own merits, not because of any direct threat to Israel (or any other state in the region). It is bad because the West has not negotiated with the true power base in Iran, and because the agreement does not address consequences to Iran meddling in the affairs of other Middle Eastern states.

I applaud the Obama Administration for wanting a nuclear deal with Iran. Sanctions are crippling to the Iranian people, and only embitters the population to the rest of the world. However, we cannot "cut corners" just to get a deal done. It's time to go back to the drawing board.