12 July 2013

Yesterday's Guilt, Tomorrow's Fears: The Time is Now

Yesterday's Guilt...Tomorrow’s Fear:
The time is now!

By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in New York City
Public Lecture Series
Jews for Jesus
9 July 2013

Thank you Sarah for inviting me to give tonight’s public lecture on the subject “The Time is now.” And thank you to each of you who has come tonight and those watching online to listen. Who even has time for coming out to hear such a lecture? Who has time to do only one thing at a time, just now? Many here will attempt to multi-task, keeping their cell phones on, writing notes about this talk and about their shopping list at the same time. We are a time-strapped city in a time-poor country, with less time to do only one thing. Please, that said, please try to stay with me for the next hour. I believe it will be worth your while. And let the cell phone vibrate all it wants. Let it be. By the way, if you haven’t turned your phone off or to silent, please do so now. Thanks.
Back in the 1960s Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel sang, “Time, time, time, see what’s become of me, while I looked around for my possibilities. I was so hard to please but look around, leaves are brown and the sky is a hazy shade of winter.” Simon’s lyrics told me back then to make the most of my life, both when I was a travelling hippie and later when I lived in New York City and throughout my days. Time is a-wasting, they said in the South.
John Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future." And I appreciate Kennedy’s forward thinking. I’m a man of hope as well. And I’m grateful that almost 50 years after President Kennedy was shot, I’m still alive to carry on bringing hope to many.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There are some things that stop us. If ‘the time is now’ then what gets in the way of our living there?
I believe we can miss ‘now living’ by three things: 1) crippling guilt from the past, 2) tormenting fears about the future, and 3) wrong living for today in a self-consumptive way. Let’s see if we can unpack these and to assist us, I want to tell you the story of a Jewish woman who met a rabbi in a fairly ugly situation and see if that encounter will assist us all to ‘live in the now’ here in 2013.

Guilt that cripples us
First the past. Depending on your self-image you may think of your past as either a glorious memory or as one that is full of regrets. Some will not attend any of their high school reunions because they don’t esteem their current status as significant; they say they have no life. Others can’t wait to sign up to the reunion to show off their university degrees, their blue ribbon spouse and children, their loss of the high school overweight poundage, whatever shows their significance. But most of us are not so trophied; most of us are not so epes as my grandfather would say. Our significance pales compared to the latest celebrity or the best sportsman in the All Star Game. We think we are something, but we are not so epes. And the thing that knocks us back so often is regret and failure from the past.
I know I’m going against the grain here in a Jewish setting. How can we think of a Jewish mother and not hear the episodes of guilt-sharing, which seem so endemic to her role? For instance, consider this case. The woman is very hungry and answers the phone from her distant son with a “So glad to hear from you.” “How are you?” he asks. “Fine, a little hungry,” his mother replies. “Nu, have you eaten today?” the son asks. “No, not in days,” his mother answers. “What! Why not? What’s wrong?” The mother’s guilt-filled answer rips to his heart, “I didn’t want to have my mouth full of food if you would ever call.”
Ruth Whippman writes for many locations, here in the US, from her native UK. This February she wrote a great blog in the NY Times Opinion pages on guilt. I cite the entire page below, but tonight, let me quote only a single paragraph:
The specifics cut deeper. I feel guilty that I almost certainly hurt my mother-in-law’s feelings when I said that thing on the phone to her the other day. I feel guilty that it has taken me three weeks to respond to my best friend’s supportive and lovely e-mail. I feel guilty that I throw my recycling in the regular trash when no one is looking and that one of my son’s earliest two-word speech combinations was “Mommy’s wine.” Most of all, I feel a crippling self-loathing that I am wasting time worrying about any of this self-indulgent nonsense when right now there are children starving in Africa.”
Description: uth Whippman Ruth Whippman is a writer and documentary filmmaker. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and The Huffington Post, and she is a regular blogger for The Independent. Follow her on Twitter at @ruthwhippman. )
Guilt can be a form of manipulation as the telephone story evidences or a real help to correct things we actually do wrong. But either way, thinking and living in the past, with its commensurate regrets and pains, with wishes that didn’t work out and with a massive inability to repair anything, will only serve to prevent your living in the now, and not help it along at all.

“The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.” (Martin Luther King)
Guilt actually cripples an otherwise-able walker. It’s near-to-impossible to walk forward if you are always looking backwards. The nearby building or the approaching pedestrian will be your landing pad and no one will find peace. Living in the now is substantially weakened by backwards pondering. The regrets of not taking that position when the boss offered it, or of taking that little pill at university can be equally damaging to healthy living in the now. I feel so badly, you might be thinking, about some event, some excessive drinking party, an abortion, a divorce, typing an email on someone else’s email account… you get it. All probably bad. It’s probably that each of these memories brings you pain. We have to find a way out of the unrelenting tyranny of the haunting past.
That said, this group of people here tonight in the Frydland Chapel believes that guilt can be overcome. And we will see that in the story of the rabbi and the traumatized woman in just a few minutes.

Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th president, said, “The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty. The young are slaves to dreams; the old servants of regrets. Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits.” Now I’m outside Roosevelt’s consummate years, so I’m on the downward spiral of non-living, but I do understand his chronological layout. Let’s therefore move our thoughts to what some call the futurists; often as President Roosevelt say, ‘the young’ or at least those who are hoping for a better tomorrow.
Actually if I understand his imagery, the dreamers are enslaved. They are never quite able to make it to the goal. They are ‘on the outskirts’ of the destination. They need to eat at certain restaurants only three more times to reach the Diners Club silver level status, or 125 more points to reach a level where the boss will notice them for recognition. Dreams unrealized can be slavery.

Terrorism and tomorrow: Tormenting fear
And I want to take that idea and expand it to include you and to many watching us on the Internet.  Not only do we have yesterday’s guilt crippling us, but also tomorrow’s fears. I’m not talking about plans, but about the inordinate worries and anxieties, which cause us to stop in those very plans. Fears, which torment us and prevent our living in the now. Add on personal trauma, and most comprehensively that which those nineteen hijackers wanted to do on 9/11, to bring terror to many. Thus terrorism has been a fact of life for 12 years here in New York City and around the globe in measure.
Consider fear of the unknown, so marvelously underscored in Hollywood B-grade horror movies and in books that pre-dated them by hundreds of years. This continues to be the major preventative of growth and now-living in these days. HP Lovecraft wrote, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”
Supernatural Horror in Literature . His major influence was Edgar Allen Poe and who in turn influenced the likes of Stephen King.
In fact, I found list after list of hundreds of fears, including Triskadekaphobia. (Fear of the number 13)
. (Fear of the number 666) and what this entire visit to the Jews for Jesus Manhattan Center might be for some of you, Neophobia, the fear of anything new.
“A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.” (Michel de Montaigne)
The Bible uses the term “Fear” 295 times, with 52 of those in the writings of King David in the Psalms. It is akin to our word ‘apprehension’ but can thwart any kind of living in the now with its anxiety. I was speaking to a man last night in the East Village who wanted more information from us, but couldn’t quite figure out how to get it since he neither gave out his email nor his home address. His fears whether warranted or not prevented his receiving what he might have really wanted. I remember a woman in Australia who was afraid to give her credit card details to me to purchase a book from me on the phone because people were listening to her conversations on her phone she said.
Either living in the past and being tripped up by guilt or living in the future with its commensurate terror and worries… neither is where God wants us to live. Haz’man achshav. The time is now.

The rabbi who brings a woman to the now
But I told you I would introduce you to a woman who encountered a rabbi. The story is found in the Bible also, in Yochanan, Perek Sh’monah. The woman is caught in adultery and the angry mob wants to send her to an early grave. After all the Torah is clear, both in the Aseret hadivrot and in next week’s parasha of Vaetchanan as well, “You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20.14) and
‘If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”  (Leviticus 20.10)
The rabbi in question is approached. The men of the village have caught this woman and want her punished. What would he say?
The Bible records a strange thing.  We read, “Y’shua stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground.” Was he stalling? Was he doodling? Why didn’t he simply quote the sources like most rabbis or answer their queries agreeing with Torah?
Yochanan tells us that the angry men were misogynists, and were using the adulteress to test the rabbi. They were not interested in her.
Consider her. Her past, filled with guilt and shame, she is then dragged in all her shame and bed linens to the holy man who was otherwise conducting Torah classes. Scandal and shame… from there, and from guilt, not a good place to look at life.
And her future was pretty well defined. She had trauma and fears based on the biblical commands. She was to be stoned. Standing on a pedestal double her height, the two witnesses were to push her off, into a quarry, breaking her neck, and then they were to be the first to throw stones onto her dying body.
Yesterday’s guilt; tomorrow’s fear, all crashed into her now living in a horror-filled moment. She had no escape. Where is her salvation? Where is her deliverance? Where is her hope?
I believe Rabbi Y’shua was elevating Torah out of their meager reach. He was making all their activities and religion to be so much less than what Hashem wanted from the very beginning. R. Y’shua had to teach them that their desire for ruining this woman’s future needed some attention and that they also were guilty. For instance, weren’t two people caught in adultery? Where is the man? Perhaps he was part of the sting. Why didn’t they convene a court and listen to the woman’s story? Setting up courts is one of the 7 laws of the sons of Noah, surely that would have been proper for Jewish people in the First Century, no?
So he begins to write things down. I believe he is writing down sins and their names. He was doing the match the columns test we often used to do in exams in primary school. How do I know that? Two bible verses help inform me here: Exodus chapters 31, and Jeremiah the prophet chapter 17.  Jeremiah prophesied this, “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.”
Exodus records the giving of the 10 commandments (Aseret hadivrot) God  “gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tablets of testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” Ex. 31.18.
Put those ideas together. God gave the world the commandments, written by his finger and those who depart from God will be written in the earth. Commandment in one column; sinner in the next.
No wonder Y’shua declared, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Now it’s not enough to have witnessed the sin. But to enter into the judicial system and execution system is to say, “I’m better than you” or “Your judgment system won’t catch me in my injustice.” So Y’shua is elevating the Torah beyond their grasp and beyond their practice and into a realm where they have to cry Abba, and they have to ask for mercy and they have to acknowledge that without Him, they would have no future, they would have no hope from their guilt and shame. They like King David in the Psalms would declare, “If Thou, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou may be feared."(Psalm 130.3-4)

The men leave the scene one by one, beginning with the oldest. Why them? They know their own sins and they admit sins faster than Usain Bolt runs a 100-metre dash. They drop their rocks. They walk away. Then the young men drop their rocks and depart. Good ending. No trial. Court dismissed. 

But what about the woman? She’s unnamed. Just another lady in the crowd.
Guilt. Yesterday. Check.
Fear. Tomorrow. Check.
What happens to her? The Bible in Yochanan records it this way, Straightening up, Y’shua said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Y’shua said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
She well knew her sin. She well knew her guilt. She had no hope of God’s favor.
She well knew the justice of the One who was running the courtroom. He could have sentenced her to death. Easily. Righteously. He did not. Her fears were quelled.
But what about today? Can she live in the now?

Back to our lives today, we could be full of self-consumption and pompous assurance that things will be fine all day, or as we say in Australia, ‘she’ll be right, mate.’  But that may be ill-informed. 2008 a global financial crisis crashed onto our lives, our wallets, our 401-Ks and many have still not recovered. My brother is 67 and was living just fine, thank you very much. But three weeks ago was diagnosed with stage four liver cancer and may not survive the year. We think we are untouchable. We think we are in the now, but honestly, without the presence of Rabbi Y’shua, whom some call Jesus, without Him, the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of that adulteress, without him, our lives would be empty and worrisome. 

With him, we can live in the now.
With him, we can be forgiven of our guilt and our sin.
With him we can be assured of a bright tomorrow without fear, because perfect love casts out all fear and those who know Him, who walk with him, who have received Y’shua as the Truth and the Way to the Father, know the truth, and the truth has set us free from worry and fears. 

Dear friend, if you are cowering from possible terror tomorrow or crippled by the guilt of our ever-present sins in the past, then may I ask you to consider Y’shua, the Messiah of Israel, and hope of the world?
His dying on the cross looked like hopelessness for the waiting world, but in his rising from the dead on the 3rd day, Y’shua brought us eternal life. It can begin today. It can begin for you today. I invite you to confess him Lord and Savior not only of the world, but also of your world. You will never be the same again.

Actual story:
 But Y’shua went to the Mount of Olives.
John 8.2 Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.
John 8.3 The scribes and the Pharisees *brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court,
John 8.4 they *said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.
John 8.5 “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”
John 8.6 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Y’shua stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.
John 8.7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
John 8.8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
John 8.9 When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.
John 8.10 Straightening up, Y’shua said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
John 8.11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

Hazy Shade of Winter
By Paul Simon

Time, time, time, see what's become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities
I was so hard to please
But look around, leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

Hear the salvation army band
Down by the riverside, it's bound to be a better ride
Than what you've got planned
Carry your cup in your hand
And look around, leaves are brown now
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

Hang on to your hopes, my friend
That's an easy thing to say, but if your hope should pass away
It's simply pretend

That you can build them again

Look around, the grass is high
The fields are ripe, it's the springtime of my life

Ah, seasons change with the scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won't you stop and remember me
At any convenient time
Funny how my memory slips while looking over manuscripts
Of unpublished rhyme
Drinking my vodka and lime” (end of lyrics)


Anonymous said...

The YouTube video of this is here: http://bit.ly/BobNYCFearsGuilt

Bob Mendelsohn said...

Hello Anonymous, glad you found the youtube video link I just put up on my FB. I'm hoping that many watch the Public Lecture from last Tuesday. And that many share it also. Thanks.