Monthly Archives: January, 2015

Fixed Positions?

January 29th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 11 comments

It is enormously difficult to change one’s belief system. The older and more invested we are in our convictions, the harder it is to change them. Whether this means abandoning a prejudice or a political system, accepting a relationship with God or rejecting the faith in which one was brought up, changing belief systems is hard. We all recognize how difficult changing positions is regardless of whether we think the change would be for the better or for the worse. Abandoning long-held values, core convictions and entrenched ideas can be a cataclysmic experience.

 In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons that the pro-life movement is increasingly being led by younger people. For millions of older women, a woman’s right to abortion became a defining principle of faith. Forty-two years after the passage of Roe vs. Wade, another generation of women (while there are men involved as well, I want to focus on females) is questioning if commitment to that creed is admirable. They, unlike the older generation, are able to see unexpected consequences that, by definition, were unanticipated. They can analyze scientific data that was unavailable in 1973 when the Supreme Court made its decision. Would that decision have been made if back then people could see the images we can see today showing how quickly fetuses look like babies, how they flinch and feel pain early on? This younger generation can assess the question objectively, since abortion is not the paramount issue on which they have been making personal, political and social decision for these past four decades. Understandably, this confuses yesterday’s generation that thought it was handing these youngsters a gift only to find they are rejecting it.

Some of these older women may regret abortions they had when younger. For others, an abortion may be only a dim and unimportant memory. Others may be terribly conflicted, regretting an abortion at the same time as they are grateful for the lives they were able to establish because there wasn’t a birth. While their views on abortion may have changed, they feel hypocritical suggesting that a woman today should not have the same option they had.

One of the many losses of our times is polarization. Newspapers, TV news, even comedy shows are geared towards a niche audience. Discouraging people even more from having honest conversations with those who hold different opinions is the fact that online comments, whether on the Huffington Post or the Blaze, tend to be dominated by venomous, vile and unintelligent statements. These make it easy to dismiss anyone who doesn’t think like oneself as unworthy of engagement. While the media and politicians love highlighting strident or stupid statements, in reality, those views represent minorities.

What would happen if five older pro-choice women and five younger pro-life women gathered in a room together? I’m not talking of the firebrands on either side. Leave aside those women whose political power or salaries derive from the issue. Leave aside those who can only speak in mantras, whether they are, “a woman’s body is her own,” or “abortion is our Holocaust.” Rather, I’m talking of pro-choice advocates who can acknowledge that what has played out socially over the past four decades in America and what we understand about babies in the womb thanks to modern science is different from what they imagined in 1973.  I’m talking of pro-life advocates who are willing to listen with open hearts to the concerns of the other side and work together on finding ways to ensure that no woman goes through an unwanted pregnancy unsupported. I think the group would find much in common. Senior members might be surprised at how bright, engaging and passionate in their position these junior counterparts are. The younger group might be amazed at hearing how much they take for granted that the generation before them didn’t and better understand why abortion took such a central stage.  

I’m not an objective bystander on this issue. I think our country took a wrong moral and legal turn when Roe vs. Wade was decided. The consequences of that decision, I believe, have been devastating, affecting the well-being of this country in countless ways. However, I see hope that despite the recent spinelessness and lack of principle of the Republican Congress, despite a president who insists that killing a healthy, full-term baby as it exits the womb is a woman’s right, the younger generation’s leadership is moving us, on this issue at least, in the right direction. 



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The Pen Is NOT Mightier than the Sword

January 27th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

If the pen really was mightier than the sword, the idiom would be unnecessary.  Nobody says, “Atom bombs are stronger than paper clips” or “Ferraris are faster than Fiats.” Most simple slogans are untrue.  “He who hesitates is lost” is contradicted by “Look before you leap.” “Out of sight, out of mind” is contradicted by “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

 The truth is usually a composite of the two extremes.  One must balance too much hesitation with too much impetuousness.  One can miss those who are far away but after a while one can also forget them.  Similarly, sticks and stones can break bones but words written by a pen cannot.  Yet there are certainly times when the long term impact of words is greater than that of guns.  Sometimes victories are brought about by bullets but other times they are won by ballots.

Because we’re all imperfect humans, our emotions can propel us toward ill-considered action rather than thoughtful words.  The little boy in the playground pushes or punches rather than inviting his antagonist to a symposium on mediation.  The crying wife drives many a husband to action, as he tries to fix the problem rather than listen to his wife explain her sadness.  The business professional might impose his will rather than negotiate what could have been a superior solution.

At times even when action is the wrong solution, the intensity of our feelings can nonetheless still push us towards doing something instead of saying something.  By the way, when a bad boss has provoked you into walking out and yelling, “I quit,” you have actually used action not words.

Wouldn’t you like to know how to make sure that you use words even when your emotions are trying to make you lash out with an action you’ll later regret?  The answer lies in a Biblical mystery.

At the burning bush, for about 35 verses God argues with Moses, persuading him to take on the mission of bringing Israel out of Egypt.  God promises him that Pharaoh and the Israelites will listen to him. God gives him wonderful signs to impress the Egyptians. After God’s many assurances, Moses finally yields basically saying, “Okay fine, go ahead and send whomever you wish; I’ll do it.”  (Exodus 3:4-4:17) 

Would you not have thought that the story would have ended quite soon with the triumphant march of Israel out of Egypt?  Yet in fact, what happens is quite the reverse. The plight of the Israelites is worsened by Pharaoh oppressing them further. As a result of Moses’ agitation, the Children of Israel must deliver the same quota of work while scavenging for their own raw material. (Exodus 5:18)  At the burning bush, God gave Moses no inkling that all would not proceed smoothly.  Something went wrong.

To add to the mystery, after this dreadful disappointment, Moses twice tells God that Pharaoh will never listen to him on account of his speech impediment.  Twice he uses the Hebrew term “Aral Sefatayim” explaining that Pharaoh will not listen to him because he has ‘sealed lips’(Exodus 6:12 & 6:30)

However, back at the burning bush, Moses used different terminology when he said, “…I am not a man of words…”  (Exodus 4:10)

Why did Moses use two different phrases to refer to his speech?

The answer lies in the remarkable conversation Moses had with God at the burning busy.  God said, “I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and you shall take my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)

Moses responds, “…when I come to the Children of Israel…” (Exodus 3:13)  Had Moses been talking to a human boss, he might have heard this:  “Are you deaf, Moses?  What do you mean asking me about going to the Children of Israel? Did I tell you to go to the them? No! I said quite clearly, ‘Go to Pharaoh – not the Children of Israel.  Just do what I tell you!”

But Moses was talking to his Heavenly Boss.  If we ignore His word, God allows us to proceed along the path of our own desires.  God basically said to Moses, “Well, okay, if you insist, go ahead and try it your way.”  It was only later, once Moses’ approach had failed and Israel was even more miserable than they had been that God eventually said to Moses, “Okay, let’s try it my way now. This time, go to Pharaoh like I originally told you.”  (Exodus 7:2)  This time Moses obeyed (Exodus 7:6) and the process of the Exodus was under way.

When Moses originally demurred by saying, “I am not a man of words,” he was not referring to any speech impediment.  He was really saying to God, “Hey, I’m not a man of words; I’m a man of action.  I’m the guy who killed an Egyptian for harassing my brethren. (Exodus 2:12)  I did not engage him in a discussion about the root causes of Egyptian anti-Semitism. Don’t send me to talk to Pharaoh.  Let me go to the people of Israel and stir up a great national revolution.  We’ll take our freedom by force; by the people throwing off their yoke of Egyptian oppression. I want action not words.”

God knows that Moses must discover for himself that this redemption has to come from God not from a people’s liberation movement.  Real redemption will come through following God’s words.

Sometimes we too must learn our own painful lessons by trying avenues that fail.  We can save ourselves much heartache by doing the right thing first.  This passage can help provide us with the necessary strength.

The pen is surely mightier than the sword when it is God’s pen and the words are His Book.  Many times throughout history, people brandishing the Bible have beaten superior forces that knew nothing of the Bible and cared less.  Our purpose in making these Thought Tools available to you is to enable you to deploy Biblical power and its ancient solutions against the modern problems that plague your life.

If you think you might benefit from a slightly more concentrated dose of Thought Tools, I have just the thing for you.  If you’d like to be able to have about a hundred of our Thought Tools on your bookshelf or your bedside table right now rather than seeing them one-at-a-time each week, this is all you need to do:

Order either Thought Tool Volume I or Thought Tool Volume II (better yet, save money by buying the set!).  If we see that this has value to you, we’ll go ahead and issue the next two volumes of Thought Tools as well.  Your order will not only provide you with a source of inspirational and practical information but it will encourage us to continue publishing them in book form. Enjoy!

So Sorry – Not!

January 22nd, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 8 comments

Most Americans have not heard of Israeli politician, Naftali Bennett. Yet, a YouTube video of his that has gone viral in Israel holds lessons for conservative Americans.

In the video, Mr. Bennett is in disguise, portraying a hapless man who constantly apologizes. A waitress spills his coffee – he apologizes. Someone slams into his car – he apologizes. He reads a newspaper condemning Israel for responding to provocation –he says that Israel must apologize. He then whips off his disguise and encourages citizens to support his political party with the promise of no more apologies.

The video resonates with me because I am tired of the constant call for conservatives to apologize for being (racist) (sexist) (xenophobic) (homophobic) (greedy) (hateful)… While I supported George W. Bush’s candidacy when he ran for president, the phrase ‘compassionate conservative’ had the underlying theme that he was doing something new. The implication was that conservatives were not compassionate, buying into a liberal lie.

I felt similarly after Republican Mia Love’s recent election as a black female representative from Utah. I kept on reading that her congressional win proves that Republicans aren’t racist. Presenting her election as a proof makes exactly the opposite point. Imagine a small child telling you, “I’m not a bad boy; I cleaned my room.” From his words, we would rightly surmise that he thinks of himself as a bad boy. Someone has told him that often enough; now he believes it.

Mia Love

I am glad that Republicans did well in the recent election. Like manyconservatives, I have doubts as to how they will proceed. They should use their win as an opportunity to speak to the American people. Right now, the media, Hollywood and academia tell people about conservatives. Republicans are bigots, sexist, stupid and racist. They hate minorities, immigrants, successful women and poor people. These may be lies, but that is the only thing that many people hear. It is the Democrat playbook and it isn’t going to be changed by uncomfortable facts or the reality on the ground. President Obama used his State of the Union speech to reinforce these ideas. Higher Republican visibility however, provides an opportunity to present a different picture. 

Republicans tend to speak to each other. They hold hearings, quote statistics and work the halls of Congress. Too many of them stay away from the American people unless they are running for election. Mitt Romney never learned to speak to Americans. For this reason, his identity – nasty millionaire – was forged by the Left. He played gentleman’s defense to a mud-slinging attack. Why were we surprised that people didn’t want to know him?

Every single time a Republican speaks, he or she should be aware of the opportunity to change hearts. We can do this with humor and good will, not with apologetics. Pointing to Mia Love’s election with an, “I told you so,” attitude, actually bolsters the Democrat argument that voting for a black and female candidate represents a new conservative ideology. Instead, say, “I understand that you see the world through the eyes of gender and race. Conservatives prefer to look at individuals and their character. Barack Obama won because he was African-American. Mia Love won because she was the best candidate.” Laugh at them – “I know you want to follow the Democrat playbook. Can we talk real issues here?”

Mia Love’s election win does not prove anything that actually needs proving. Any Republican elected official who thinks it does needs to get out and meet conservative Americans. They have been bullied so much that suffer from battered-Conservative-syndrome. They actually believe the Left’s propaganda. Congresswoman Love’s position no more proves that Republicans aren’t racist than it proves that Republicans are not green Martians. Arguing against either suggestion only serves to bolster the opposing claim. If I were Israeli, I would need to judge Naftali Bennett on more than his ad. As an American, I can only hope that conservatives and their elected leaders take a lesson from him. 

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Decades of Our Discontent

January 14th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 8 comments

When I picked up the phone and heard Marcia’s voice saying, “Can I please speak to the Rabbi?” I knew it wasn’t time for chitchat. Buzzing through to my husband on the intercom, I told him, “Marcia’s on the phone and it sounds like something really bad has happened.”

When he came out from his office, I expected to hear of a parent’s death or a serious illness. Instead, he said that she had a question about how to make her new house’s kitchen kosher. Although Marcia and her husband were new to our congregation and I didn’t yet know them well, I was shocked at how I misread her voice. I soon learned that she always sounded like tragedy was sitting on her shoulder. I can’t pretend that when they relocated again a year later, I missed her.

I was reminded of Marcia when I read the introduction to and beginning of Betty Friedan’s classic book, The Feminist Mystique. How unhappy she makes women sound back in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. The problem is, today, very few women have the housewife, stay-at-home, focus on husband and children life that she thought was making them so unhappy. Yet, everywhere I look, I’m still reading about how unhappy women are. They can’t find a good man to marry, or their bodies don’t provide pregnancy on demand when they are ready for it,  or their employees aren’t accepting their need for advancement despite fewer hours at work or their spouses don’t do enough housework or, or, or…

Could it be that, like Marcia and her perennial voice of doom, women are just complainers regardless of what is happening? Could it be that women expect full sexual freedom, gentlemanly behavior from men, love, marriage, family, lucrative work, fulfilling careers, “me time,” “girlfriend getaways,” with some exciting fireworks, soothing cocoa, designer kitchens, chefs on call and so much more thrown in – right away and right now? Anyone expecting all that would be unhappy when life turns out to run by different rules.

My mother, aunts and their friends didn’t seem miserable to me. They expected life to have challenges and they balanced their needs as best they could. My friends, daughters and their friends don’t seem miserable either. They are too busy juggling lots of balls and recognizing that there is a limit to how many they can manage at one time. They see happiness as their responsibility and not a gift to be delivered by society. I don’t know what factors developed Marcia’s voice into the gloomy cavern it was. I do know that our culture breeds discontent, encourages entitlement and produces women no more attractive or desirable than Marcia. She was an individual in a community of upbeat people, who were striving to grow and flourish. Her presence stole peace of mind from those around her. Today, the media, academia and many politicians encourage all women to be Marcia-like.  Those of us who wish to be happy need to inoculate ourselves against that virus, surrounding ourselves with women looking for realistic joy rather than victimhood. I want to thank my friends, family and readers who provide that antidote to me.


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Congratulations, Mr. Speaker

January 7th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 11 comments

Congratulations, Mr. Boehner. As expected, you won the battle for Speaker of the House. If reports are correct, you also took the first step to help cause a Republican loss in the presidential election of 2016. By punishing those who voted against you, you sent a “who needs you” message to vast numbers of Republicans who have already been questioning their loyalty to a party from which they increasingly feel alienated.

Those who voted against you were doing their job expressing the wishes of those citizens who sent them to Washington. They also expressed the frustrations of other voters in swing states. Their numbers are growing.

Like many Americans, I am appalled at how President Obama used the Internal Revenue Service to silence his critics. Like many conservatives, I am appalled at the idea that you would use your office to remove your critics from key positions or ensure that they are not on the committees of their choice. When the Wall Street Journal reports that, “Several GOP lawmakers who decided not to vote for Mr. Boehner said they saw consequences…Mr. Boehner wasn’t involved in that decision, a GOP leadership aide said,” that doesn’t pass the smell test. No one thinks that President Obama himself called IRS employees and told them to commit illegal actions against conservative groups. Most conservatives do not doubt that the culture he cultivates means that no direct words from him are necessary. If there are valid reasons for individuals not to be on committees because they opposed you, stand up and explain why that should be. If they are not being kept off committees, stand up and say that. As it is, you look petty and vindictive and the actions bolster the argument of those who feel that both parties are equally corrupt.


You Want the Last Word?

January 6th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Has one of your children ever approached you with a long litany of complaints?  Your offspring begins detailing his grievances, some of them more perceived than real.  You gently interrupt to contradict the mistakes.

Perhaps it’s a friend or professional associate.  The instinct to defend ourselves against what we feel is an illegitimate allegation is all but irresistible.  The problem is that whether child, friend or business acquaintance, the odds are that the real resentment is only going to be mentioned at the very end.

By interrupting the catalog of charges and objecting to the first or second accusation, we never actually get to hear the climax, the main issue that brought about the confrontation in the first place.

The Torah also builds to a climax in its final lines.  The closing verse suggests that the entire book fulfills its purpose through the people of Israel.

And in all the mighty hand and all the awesome sight which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel.
 (Deuteronomy 34:12)

But, the Torah comprises five books.  Listen to the closing verse of the fourth book of the Torah:

These are the commandments and judgments which God commanded by the hand of Moses to the Children of Israel on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan near Jericho. (Numbers 36:13)

Again, we find Israel highlighted in this climactic final verse of Numbers.  To explore the possibility of a revealing pattern, let’s examine the last verse of the third book of the Torah:

These are the commandments that God commanded Moses for the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai.
(Leviticus 27:34)

Still, we’re not yet done.  Let’s see how the second book ends:

For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, through all their travels.
(Exodus 40:38)

That would seem to settle it.  The climax of each book seems to emphasize the Children of Israel.  Perhaps just as a matter of course, for the sake of completion, we’ll check the final verse of Genesis as well, but with every confidence that the pattern will be maintained.  Or will it?

And Joseph died at 110 years old and they embalmed him
 and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
 (Genesis 50:26)

Oops!  No mention of Israel.  Just when it seemed so clear.

But wait!  By the end of Genesis, there is no People of Israel.  There is only Jacob and his family living in exile in Egypt.  It follows that having no mention of the People of Israel in the final verse of Genesis makes perfect sense.

This begs the question. When did the People of Israel come into existence?  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Israel became a people when it acquired a national mission.  In other words, the first time God issued a commandment to the people of Israel is the moment when they emerged onto the stage of world history.

Here is the first commandment issued to the nascent nation:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.”
(Exodus 12:1-2)

Ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that in some ways, this twelfth chapter of Exodus represents the real beginning.  In this case, the first section of the Torah would really end with these words:

…but God strengthened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not send out the Children of Israel from his land.
(Exodus 11:10)

To the extent that this approach provides an alternate picture of the Torah, the first book, comprising Genesis and the first eleven chapters of Exodus also ends with a mention of the word Israel. God’s revelation, the Torah, emphasizes as a climax the emergence of the people of Israel to help the world replace barbarism with civilization.

We see that the final words often reveal the real purpose of the entire communication.  As hard as it is to hear complaints, particularly with family, try to nod encouragingly without interrupting in order to be able to hear the entire list.  The climax will probably only come just before your interlocutor finally falls silent.

That is then an excellent time to repeat the main complaint with the words, “So do I understand that you are chiefly unhappy because I (did) (said)…etc.?”  Then you should say, “I can tell that you have been thinking about this for a while and I am going to take a day to digest all you’ve said; is it okay if I get back to you tomorrow?”

In this fashion, you not only secure yourself some time to think carefully, but by the next day, the emotional tensions will largely have dissipated and the resulting conversation is likely to bring the rewarding result of rescuing the relationship.

And those closing words are the climax of today’s Thought Tool.

Start the New Year with the resolution of more Bible study through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom. A deeper look into Genesis will provide insights to improve your relationships with God, your family and community. Our Genesis Journeys audio CD package contains eight hours of teachings sure to get 2015 off on the right foot.

Genesis Journeys


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