Friday, November 16, 2012
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
The Ten Commandments and
Red Letter texts in the New Testament
This morning I read an essay by the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It was about the Ten Commandments, and how for many years, leaders in Judaism, tried to downplay the importance of the Ten Commandments in relation to the other laws. They took what many might regard as surprising action to bring this point home. For instance, Originally, in the synagogues, the Ten Commandments were recited before they said the Shema - Hear O Israel, the Lord is one God. But because there were some who believed that because the Ten Commandments were so important, because God had communicated this directly with the people from Mount Sinai, that the rest of the laws were not important, and some people were saying that Moses had just made them up. So, the 10 Commandments were cut from the synagogues order of service. People still did recite them at home. Some, when reciting these words, would stand, while remaining seated for other prayers. So determined were the Rabbis to stamp out the idea that the Ten Commandments were more special but, it would seem that nevertheless, people still had a need to see these commandments as having precedence over the other Mosaic laws. Rabbi Sack entitled his essay, "The custom that refused to die". He said that despite the well meant efforts of the Rabbi's to stamp out custom of standing when reciting the Ten Commandments, the people simply kept on doing it.
"Leave Israel alone," said Hillel, "for even if they are not prophets, they are the children of prophets." Ordinary Jews had a passion for the Ten Commandments" They were the distilled essence of Judaism. They were heard directly by the people from the mouth of G-d Himself. They were the basis of the covenant they made with G-d at Mount Sinai, calling on them to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Twice in the Torah they are described as the covenant itself.
As I was reflecting on that, I was reminded that most Christians also hold in higher regard the New Testament than the Old Testament, the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) than they do other parts of the New Testament and the recorded words of Jesus (In certain modern editions, printed in red ink). We are told that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," (2 Tim 3:16)
So were the Jewish people WRONG to give special prominence to the Ten Commandments over the other laws that Moses gave them? Are Anglican Christians wrong to give special prominence to the Gospel Reading, by having the priest read that portion (and a lay reader reading the Old Testament and/or the Epistles.) Having everyone stand during the reading of the Gospel text? This is not a universal Christian tradition. It is - I believe and Anglican and possibly a Roman Catholic tradition. )
I totally understand the concern of the rabbis that the Jews do not focus so much on the relatively short tract of Scripture at the expense of the rest of the Torah, and likewise, I believe Christians should not be so zoned in on The Gospels and in Particular Jesus words that they disregard the richness that is to be found in the rest of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. However, we should not downplay, either the Ten Commandments as insignificant or the Words of Jesus as being unimportant, but recognise that in the Scripture these are VERY significant passages. By recognising that The Ten Commandments, and the Words of Jesus were of more special significance, we are not saying that the other parts of the Old Testament or the writings of Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John are not important.
I am reminded that in the New Testament, we read of two occasions where god spoke audibly from Heaven, once after Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, and once on the Mount of Transfiguration, an on both occasions He said the same thing. "This is my own Son, in whom I am well pleased" on the Mount of Transfiguration, God added, "Listen to him".
It would seem to me, that special attention should be paid to the what Jesus was recorded as saying, and I think that in hearing Jesus words, we should also listen to the WAY they were said. I hear you objecting? We were not around back then and there were video cameras around at that time, so how can we know HOW Jesus said these things. in one sense we can't know, but I do believe we can get a sense of the way he spoke by reading his words in context. I think we would be well advised to look at what Jesus put emphasis on, and try and reflect that in our own lives. A lot of Christians place a lot of emphasis on sexual sins almost to the exclusion of every other aspect of life. The Ten Commandments, brief as they are only have one commandment, given without elaboration or comment on what may be classified as sexual sin, "Do not commit adultery" And Jesus equally did speak about sexual sin, but he had a LOT more to say about the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, who lorded their superiority over the others. Jesus rebuked the GREED of money changers in the temple courts saying that they were turning God's House of prayer for all nations into a market place. I am not saying sexual sin is a non-issue, but I am saying, it should not necessarily be the main issue, and should definitely not be the ONLY issue.
It's no secret that I am gay. I know that to many who read this, that fact alone precludes me from being a genuine Christian, or at the very least, I must repent of my homosexuality, and if I cannot "change" to be normal, then I should remain celibate - take a vow of chastity, as it were. I was accused, on Facebook, by someone who I don't know, of following "another Lord" - a false-Christ. I was very insulted, though not concerned, by the presumptuousness a person, to say such a thing. I asked him, politely if he had checked that he himself was following the True Lord. Yes there are Scriptures that speak about homosexuality and on the face of it, they seem to be prohibitive, but, I believe and this is after some time of careful study, I believe these scriptures are addressing very specific situations. (I will not go into an apologia or explanation here, but I believe - and this is where the relevance of this to the topic in hand, is that it is interesting that in the Ten Commandments - adultery is mentioned, which is not gender specific - a woman can commit adultery, as can a man, - but not homosexuality. Again, I remind you, that many Christians are overly interested in homosexuality, to the extent that i think some people think its the worst sin - or a sin as bas as murder. "Sin is sin" and if you have broken one law you are just as sinful as the vilest murderer. Yes the Bible says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. However, even those who repeat such saying in practice, definitely have a "hierarchy of sin" and you can tell by how animated they get about different issues. Homosexuality seems to evoke the most anger from social conservative Christians. There are many types of sexual sin. Some are illegal, others are legal. However, some people, are more animated about two adults of the same gender having consenting sexual intercourse.
I notice that Jesus never mentioned the issue of homosexuality. Jesus in His three years of ministry, did not go around rebuking sinners. He was not out to lecture the prostitutes (or their customers) or the drunkards, even though both prostitution and drunkenness are condemned in the Bible. He came to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the World, as His cousin John preached. He taught us about the Love of God, and he told us not to judge. I am not so naive as to believe that people will change their mind on this issue, purely on the strength of one article, but I would say, that even if you are right that homosexuality is a sin, can we at least show consistency in remembering that Jusus came to bring the GOOD news, and that is that there is forgiveness and Love from God, and that everyone can come to the cross. Nobody is excluded. We WERE told by Jesus that we must PREACH the Gospel (Good news) to all people, and make DISCIPLES. Can we preach the Gospel of Salvation that through repentance and faith, available by the GRACE of God, while at the same time having a superior attitude, and disdainfully dismissing gay people as beyond hope? Can we preach a Gospel of grace while at the same time holding a judgmental placard that says "God hates gays/fags"
I was tempted, when i came to the place in my life, to realise that being gay was just part of who i am, and that it is not going to go away or change, to say that if God is against homosexuality - then he shouldn't have made me one. That if He won't accept me, then I may as well enjoy life and MAYBE there is no God at all. I had that thought for about 2 seconds, when I remembered that I had experienced the miracles and love of God, and that there was no way I could deny His reality. I consequently set out to understand this apparent anomaly. I cannot say i have got a total handle on it, but I can confidently say that I am His child, His gay child.He couldn't love me any more - He gave His life for me on the Cross, and wouldn't love me any less - the Bible says that He will not let anyone snatch us out of His hand, and in Romans that NOTHING can separate us from the Love of God. Nothing in all creation - that I presume includes homosexuality. if you say that homosexuality does separate us from God's love you seem to be in direct contradiction with the word of God.
In conclusion, We have in the Bible God's Words to Us a special gift, to be treasured and used. It is both a unit in that it is all God's Word, and it is multifaceted, in that it is 66 documents written by different authors over a great span of years. And just as a a wedding ring given to a wife is entirely beautiful and yet when the bride shows off her special ring, it is the precious stones that are set in the ring that she draws your attention to. Like those precious stones , those sapohires, emerals or diamonds, The Ten Commandments and the Words of Jesus are aspects on which we can easily focus as being a little extra special.
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
As for tutus – these are female dance apparel. This is not to say, that a man who is a transvestite (wearing women's clothing) or transgendered (identifying as a woman – or in the process of being gender realigned – which involves more that an operation) or merely attending a fancy dress party, would not wear a tutu – but by and large, boys and men do not wear tutus. The one aspect of the musical "Billy Elliot" about the Northern boy who wanted to be ballet dancer that disappointed me – as it detracted from the otherwise excellent message of the story – was at the end, all the males in the cast came out wearing "tutus" – actually it was just the skirts that are attached to the tutu – a proper tutu is a garment that includes a bodice and a skirt. The message of the story is that it is absolutely acceptable for a boy to pursue an interest in ballet, and the notion that that will make him gay or turn him into a girl, is complete nonsense.
I would go further to say that the role of male dancers is very distinct from that of their female counterparts. Far from the wrongly put-about propaganda, men who dance need to have to be fit and strong. There training includes weight-lifting. The last thing a ballerina wants is a namby-pamby weakling for a dance partner.
The assumption that all gay men are effeminate and would be interested in ballet is yet another stereotype that is wide of the mark. Yes, there are many male dancers who were and are gay – famously Rudolf Nureyev, but Michael Baryshnikov is straight, and a father, and he is one of many. Frankly the issue of sexuality – either sexual orientation (preference) or gender identity – have nothing to do with whether one likes or wants to do ballet – to believe that boys/men who do ballet have "gender issues" would mean that you would have to conclude that no ballerina is a lesbian – because, of course, all lesbians are butch and have no interest in anything as feminine as ballet. (I'm being extremely sarcastic.)
In the previous paragraph I put the word 'preference' in brackets as some people still refer to a person's sexuality as their 'sexual preference' – I do not like the expression, as it suggests that one chooses one's sexuality. Speaking personally, and I know this is the case for most people, I never made a conscious decision as to which gender I would be attracted to sexually. I suppose that if I had been able to choose, it would have been to be attracted to the opposite sex – certainly would have made my life a lot easier.
Yes, Sasha is a boy. The parents took the decision to raise him as "gender neutral", which I understand does not imply that they impose dresses, dollies, and femininity on him, as was suggested by the Melanie Phillips article, but that in letting him be who he wants to be, and to express himself without fear of judgement. Within his home, he can wear a dress if he wants to, and not be told "boys don't wear dresses" or play with a doll, and not be forced to play with an "action man", toy guns or cars. The pictures of Sasha in the article are mostly of him wearing some 'girly' clothing. I suspect that there may be pictures of him wearing boys clothing, that were not selected as they did not suit the stereotype that Melanie Phillips wants to perpetuate.
The notion that a child of either gender showing an interest in clothing regarded as being for the opposite gender, or playing an "opposite gender role" such as a little boy pretending to be a mummy will result in gender confusion in later life is ridiculous. The fact is, it is only when a major kerfuffle is made about it – the boy is punished or mocked and teased and made to feel that he is weird that it leads to psychological issues.
For generations people have tried to change people's sexual orientation and people, ashamed of what they perceive to be unnatural have tried to change their own sexual orientation to conform with societal norms. In most, if not all cases, they have failed to achieve the change – in many cases, the results have been more than unsuccessful; they have been disastrous, with many suicides and serious problems arising.
If Sasha is heterosexual (there is a high probability of this) then, he will emerge as a heterosexual man, comfortable in his own body. "Dressing him in girls clothes" will not result in his sexuality being changed one way or the other.
If he is gay, he will be able to be relaxed about this and not have to hide away his interest in other boys and made to feel ashamed for what is a natural part of growing up. Yes, when a child shows a natural interest in the opposite gender – because that is how that child has been "hard-wired" – no-one complains – in fact, people go out of their way to encourage it. If on the other hand his/her natural inclination and interests are towards the same gender – and it goes beyond merely "play-mate" suddenly people go out of their way to make that child feel ashamed, dirty, and despicable.
Surely in today's society, we should be LESS concerned about the gender of person's sexual partners and more concerned that sexual behaviour itself is appropriate. We should be doing more to make young people realise that rape and sexual assault are actions that are despised, that having multiple sexual partners, and not taking necessary precautions to prevent pregnancy or the transmission of sexually transmitted infections is irresponsible. We should be more concerned about the rising incidences of child-sexual abuse and exploitation, and this should be regardless of whether the perpetrator is male or female, or the victim is a boy or a girl.
Sasha Laxton's parents may not be your idea of good parents – but at least they are being deliberate in the choice they have made and they have thought it through. They are doing, what they believe is the best for Sasha, and they should have the right to do so. To suggest that they are being abusive is not only a huge insult to children who have suffered at the hands of abusive parents and an insult to Sasha's parents and like-minded people, but it does a disservice to children who are subjected to real abuse. I agree that Social services have got it wrong in certain cases and they have meddled too much - taking children away from their parents because they are overweight, in one instance, and denying people the chance to foster or adopt because a parent is overweight or one parent smokes (cigarettes). While, intervention should take place, if all the children are dangerously obese and parents should be required to keep their children to a strict diet supervised by qualified dietitian, taking the children away from their parents seemed extreme and could have resulted in severe psychological harm. Having said that - we have only heard one side of this argument, and it is possible that the measures I suggested were tried but that they did not get the co-operation they needed. Overly indulgent parents can be as dangerous to child's overall well being as an overly stern and strict parent may be. The overly strict parent may become verbally and possibly even physically abusive, while the overly indulgent parent may be regarded as neglectful. Do Laxton's fall into either category? I do not know - certainly not overly strict - but are they too indulgent? One could argue, I suppose that by not expecting Sasha to dress and behave more conventionally, as a male child, they are risking exposing him being "the butt of ridicule" to quote a caption in the article. However, having worked among young children, they really couldn't be bothered - and if Sasha preferred to wear dresses than shorts at play, he will have some children who may be a bit surprised in the beginning, but as time goes by provided no misguided adult interferes, like most children he will make friends and they will play with him and my guess is that he will have girl-friends and boy-friends. Working in a primary school once, I was on break duty in the infants section. They had, among the playthings that children could avail themselves, some prams for dolls. There were a few boys who had as much fun pushing (sometimes at full pelt) the the prams around the playground. There was no adult children suggesting any toy on any child, THEY chose. At another school, a little 4 year old boy put on a white frock that was in the dressing up box. Modern fathers are much more involved with the practical aspects of caring for their younger children. A modern father is just as likely to change a nappy, prepare a bottle for the baby, take the kids to school, or other activities, as mothers. A not such a modern "phenomenon is the idea of a "stay at home dad."
Sasha, as far as I can tell from the reports is very fortunate in that he has a mum and a dad who are involved with his upbringing and the two parents, though not married (going by the different surnames) are working together in parenting their son, and clearly this is not merely a case of a mother who had a son, but would have preferred a daughter and so is forcing the child to take on a feminine persona.
Back to the extremely offensive article I was struck by the jarring subtitles that were dotted around the page.
Damaging? How is it damaging? Ms Phillips suggests that ultimately Sasha will be psychologically damaged by this. I suppose she is entitled to her belief, but all over the country children are being forced to attend extra-mural activities that their parents have some unfulfilled ambition - or who want to bathe in the "reflected glory" of the child's success and the children instead of enjoying the experience are driven to be the BEST. It could be football, Karate, or some other sport, or it may be music, or indeed, ballet. Children fear "messing up" and this, in some cases leads to severe anxiety, which could manifest itself in depression, or to anorexia. A child who is driven too hard may end up drinking alcohol start smoking, or taking drugs. Watching TV talent shows that are all the rage these day, such as X-Factor, Britain's Got Talent, Pop idols, Got to Dance, etc. One can see, how devastated some of the contestants are when they do not progress to the next level. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect that among the many thousands of contestants in these high-profile competitions are pushy parents who see this as their big chance to make lots of money, and so push their child to enter and then, behave rather disgracefully, whe the child does not make it through to the final competition. It is not a new phenomenon. Noel Coward wrote a song:
Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington
Don't put your daughter on the stage
The profession is overcrowded
And the struggle's pretty tough
And admitting the fact she's burning to act
That isn't quite enough
She's a big girl and though her teeth are fairly good
She's not the type I ever would be eager to engage
I repeat, Mrs. Worthington, sweet Mrs. Worthington
Don't put your daughter on the stage.
Then there are those infant pageant shows with outlandish prizes where little girls who have no idea what it is all about being forced to perform. it's not sweet - it's sad.
Lunacy? This is a very strong word, and to suggest that someone is mad just because they hold a different opinion is discriminatory and wrong. As a gay man, I think that people who believe that homosexuality is evil, that gay people should be imprisoned, or killed, or that one chooses to be gay and can change are dead wrong, but I would not label such people as lunitics.
Sinister? Of the three upsetting subheadings, this was the one that got to me most - SINISTER? she says.
It all sounds too ludicrous to be true. In fact, it is deeply sinister. Our society is being brainwashed into pretending that the differences between male and female don't exist — in order to reconstruct society into some unattainable utopia of sexual and gender identicality. (sic)
This supposed plot to "reconstruct" society is entirely in her own head. Because some parents choose a different approach to rearing their child does not mean that the whole society will automatically change. These parents are exercising their right to bring up their children in accordance with their own belief system. Provided that belief system is not going to endanger the child physically or emotionally, I believe they should be permitted to do exactly that. Jehovah's Witnesses believe it is wrong to have blood transfusions. Doctors in the UK have to ask permission of a patient or in the case of a minor, the patient's parent or guardian before proceeding with any medical procedure. If the permission is denied there is nothing that the doctor can do - as far as i know. Melanie Phillips would be screaming blue murder if some government authority started dictating to her about how to raise her children. Should we not afford the Laxton's similar courtesy.
If the Daily Mail believe that what the Laxton's are doing by publicly talking about the gender neutral child (actually I do feel that they were wrong in this case) to the media, they could have boycotted the story and Ms Phillips could have concentrated on more relevant issues.