Category Archives: Pursuit of Virtue

Texas Adoption Bill

The Texas Legislature made some waves earlier this month when the House sent the Senate a Bill about the rights of conscience in Child Welfare Services.  It’s called HB 3859.  This link goes to the text of the bill.  The New York Times, and Atlantic Monthly, have written about it. Equality Texas is particularly opposed to it, saying the bill would trample the rights of Gay and Lesbian couples.  ABC News complains loudly the bill could allow Texas Adoption Agencies to ban Jews, gays, and Muslims.

If you want to, take a few minutes and go to the link and read the bill for yourself. We won’t go away while you’re gone.  We’ll still be here.  We promise.

Are you done reading, yet?  Good.  The whole Bill is about four pages long in 10 point font, a little longer if I make the writing bigger for old eyes.  The Texas Legislature isn’t like Congress in that respect.  Congress likes bills hundreds of pages long, or even thousands, written in complex legalese that require a JD to even pronounce the words.  The Texas Legislature drafts short bills in plane understandable language.

Does the text contain the name of any religion?  It does not.  Does it specifically call out gay, lesbian, transgendered children or couples? It does not.

Then what does it do?  This bill simply protects the right of conscience of any private agency that works in child welfare.

  • If there were a Muslim Adoption Agency in Irving, Texas, that wanted to ensure Sunni couples adopted Sunni children and Shi’a couples adopted Shi’a children, they would be protected.
  • If there were an LGBT organization in Austin that wanted to step up and make sure LGBT kids get placed with LGBT families, as long as they have a religious explanation, they would be protected.
  • I dare say, that a Child Welfare Agency full of Secular Humanists who refused adoptions to Christians would also be protected by this law, as long as they explained their position in religious terms and referred them to another agency.

What this Bill actually does is protect everyone’s right of conscience.  I expect that if it were to become law and be challenged in court, it would even protect Atheists who have religious reasons to keep Christians from adopting.  The bill would require any agency refusing services on religious grounds to refer those seeking services to another agency that would help them, or to the Texas Department of Child and Family Services.

What this Bill doesn’t do is allow anyone to use threat of law suit or government force to coerce someone else to violate sincerely held beliefs.  Don’t we need more of that?  Don’t we as a society want more protection for all sincerely held beliefs, even if those beliefs aren’t exactly the same as anyone else’s?  Don’t we want more liberty and less coercion?

On thing we do need to ensure is that while Texas is requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, the Legislature and State Agencies make adoptions easier and less expensive. Not harder.

If we’re truly pursuing Virtue here, then we need to make it easier for couples (or singles) who would nurture children and help them flourish to adopt, regardless of creed, belief or religion. As a society we should keep children out of the hands of the violent and the abusive regardless of creed, belief or religion.

Thank you for reading.  We do appreciate you.  If you liked (or hated) what you read here, please tell your friends and click the follow button.

And lest I forget, these views are my own and I’m not writing here to represent the Texas Military Department, the Texas National Guard, the U. S. Army or the DoD.  All these organizations have Public Affairs Offices and spokespeople who should not be confused with me.

Jewish Fall Holy Days — Bet (So, What are We Celebrating, vol 2, part 10)

The next of the Jewish Fall Holy Days, after Yom Kippur is Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths. Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kuppur. The name Sukkot comes from a Hebrew word that refers to temporary dwelling, more like a tent than a hotel. That is to say, the dwelling itself is temporary, not just the stay in it. Sukkot is followed directly by Simchat Torah, the day of rejoicing in God’s Word. I believe that this is also sometimes referred to as the Last Great Day. Some of my Jewish friends who grew up in Judaism, like Adam Young or Elisabeth Robbins, can correct me on this.

Sukkot is one of three pilgrimage feasts, Pesach and Shavout are the others [and I have writ other pieces about those Jewish Holy Days and their Christian counterparts]. At the pilgrimage feasts, all the men of Israel were commanded to present themselves and their offering to the Almighty, at The Temple in Jerusalem. In the days of Solomon’s Temple and during the Second Temple period, Jewish communities in farflung locations outside the Holy Land – like Ethiopia, India and Spain – would send representatives or delegations. Those who lived in the Holy Land would often bring their whole families along to the pilgrimage feasts.

Traditionally, Jews will erect a Sukkah (singular of Sukkot) a day or two after Yom Kippur. Then Sukkot begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and lasts eight days. Some Jews will live in the Sukkah for that time, actually sleeping, preparing and eating meals, etc., in the Sukkah. Others will pray in the Sukkah and bring meals outside to eat in it. Another tradition involved in Sukkot is waving or shaking the Lulov. A Lulov consists of the branch or fruit of four kinds of trees, usually piece of citrus fruit, along with palm fronds, a small branch of myrtle and a small branch of willow. The traditions for Simchat Torah usually involve reading the last verses of the last chapter of Deuteronomy, the first verses of Genesis Chapter One and sometimes carrying the Torah scroll and dancing with it while singing worship songs or prayers. And there are many other traditions also associated with these Holy Days.

Following the Exodus, Moses, Aaron and Miriam led the tribes of Israel through forty years of walking and dwelling in tents (dwelling in sukkot) in the deserts between Egypt and the Holy Land. During that time of travelling in the deserts, they worshiped the Almighty in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness was dedicated and services began there at the time of Sukkot. Many generations later, The first Temple, built by Solomon, was also dedicated and worship transitioned from the Tabernacle to The Temple at the time of Sukkot.

Some Messianic Jews and Hebrew Roots Christians believe that Yeshua (Jesus) was actually born during the time of Sukkot. There’s a proof for this, similar to proving parallel lines in Euclidian geometry, that involves the beginning of St Luke’s Gospel and determining when John the Baptist was born and knowing how far along Miriam (Mary), Yeshua’s mother was when she went to stay with her cousin Elisheva (Elizabeth) and her husband Zachariah, parents of John the Baptist. (And that’s not complicated or confusing either, is it?). The easier hint is the first chapter of the Gospel of St John the Apostle, where he writes that the Word became flesh and Tabernacled among us in the form of Yeshua (see John 1:14, NASB). Even as a young kid, when I became an evangelical, I considered the use of the word tabernacled to be a hint or a sign post pointing to some unseen truth hidden in the Gospels. Now as a Messianic Jew, I believe the use of the word Tabernacled in John 1:14 is a hint that Yeshua was born at the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Not everyone believes this. Others think He was born in the Spring at Pesach, that he was born, died and resurrected during the same week of the year, just thirty-three years apart. To me personally, that would just be too much irony. And I sometimes muse that the Universe runs on irony.

To me, Sukkot is a time to celebrate God and man dwelling together.

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These opinions are my own and are not necessarily endorsed by any Rabbi, Chaplain, Pastor, Priest, Minister, Imam, Cleric, Rebbe, Bishop or Mullah.  Nor are they endorsed by my employers, the National Guard or the DoD.

If you enjoyed this piece, please share it with your friends.  If you have a favorite tradition for Sukkot or fall in general, why not share it with us in the comments?

Jewish Fall Holy Days – Alef (So, what are We Celebrating, vol 2, parts 8 and 9)

Jews the world over have just celebrated Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur.  Sukkot is coming up in just a few days.  Rosh HaShannah, means the head of the year, or New Years. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.  Sukkot is the Feast of Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths.  I’m going to focus on Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur in this piece.

Those of you who have read me for a  while will know that when I write about religion or about religious holy days, I usually write about Judaism and Christianity together.  For Holy Days, I tend to write about them in groups that are connected thematically or happen to fall next to each other on the calendar that year.  Judaism observes a calendar based primarily on lunar cycles, while the civil calendar is based on the solar year.  Thus Jewish Holy Days move around a few days or weeks, earlier or later, within the Gregorian calendar, each successive year.  For example, the eight nights of Hanukkah and Christmas usually overlap or fall close together in late December. Though sometimes Hanukkah falls several weeks earlier.

There aren’t any Christian religious holy days that fall on or near Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, so there isn’t really anything to pair them up with besides each other.  This isn’t going be exhaustive or encyclopaedic.  I’m just going to hit the high points and then leave myself some room to write more about them next year.  So, if I failed to mention your favorite tradition or left out something you feel is important, write about that in the comments.

Okay, here goes. Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur (part 8)

According to scripture, the fall cycle of Jewish Holy Days starts on the first of day of the seventh month, the first of Tishri. For many Jews preparation starts the prior month in Elul, which is traditionally a time for reconciliation and making amends. Spending the month of Elul making amends isn’t commanded in the Scriptures, but it’s practical. If it’s been a bad year, it may take the whole month. If it hasn’t, then we’re spending the time reconnecting with friends and relations.

The first of Tishri is celebrated as Rosh HaShanna or New Years’ in rabbinical Judaism. It’s a time for commemorating the creation of the world by the Divine and celebrating the Divine as King over mankind. Another component of the first of Tishri in many congregations is the Feast of Trumpets or Yom Teruah. It’s a day for blowing shofarim or ram’s horn trumpets and rejoicing.  In some Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots groups, Yom Teruah is regarded as heralding the return of the King, Messiah Yeshua.

Ten days later comes Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. In ancient times, when the Jews had The Temple in Jerusalem (or before that, the Tabernacle in the wilderness) Yom Kippur was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place.  All the Jews would fast, and no one would work, on Yom Kippur.  Before entering the Most Holy Place the High Priest would offer a series of sacrifices covering himself, all the other priests, etc.  He would also wash several times. Then they would take two goats, and onto one goat, called the Azazel goat, the High Priest would symbolically transfer the sins of all the people.  The other goat, he would sacrifice and take its blood into the Most Holy Place with him.  The Azazel goat would be set outside the camp, or taken to a cliff and thrown down on the rocks.

In modern times, prayer services are substituted for all sacrifices.

The prayer services on Yom Kippur are largely about confession and repentance and dedication to serving God.  But its group confession and group repentance and group dedication.

Kol Nidre (part 9)

Now, what I really want to talk about in this piece is the tradition of Kol Nidre.  It’s a prayer service held at sundown on the evening that Yom Kippur starts.  It features the assembly of the congregation, the closing of the doors, and the Cantor singing the Kol Nidre.  Kol Nidre is prayer asking for God to forgive us for and release us from vows made falsely, usually under pain of torture or death — such as conversion to another religion. Or from vows we have intended to fulfill, but didn’t. It is by no means permission to lie, cheat, or steal in business or civil matters.

It is widely regarded that Kol Nidre was written by rabbis in Europe during the Middle Ages, when Jews were frequently under various persecutions by Catholics or Muslims.  Under threat of torture or death, many Jews would change their names, begin going to the other religion’s worship and prayers in public, but practice their Judaism in private.  They would become crypto-Jews and hope that soon the King, Sultan, Prince, Bishop, or Caliph who decreed the persecution would be overthrown or die, or that they could move somewhere far away and practice their Judaism openly again.  Jews asked themselves questions like, “How can we serve God, if we’re dead?  How can my great grandchildren serve God, if they are never born because my bloodline is extinguished in this persecution?”  The answer was Kol Nidre.  We convert in public, but in private, before Yom Kippur, we will ask God to absolve us of the conversion.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is precisely how a guy who calls himself StThomas comes to be writing about Judaism in the first place.  My real last name is a Spanish forced conversion name.  So, somewhere up the family tree, one of my  grandfather’s great grandfathers faced that decision about changing his name and going to Mass.  Some would call that cowardly.  I say it takes more courage to live in hope of freedom.  And none of us have faced the Spanish Inquisition or ISIS.  I’m sure you’d like to think that when Jihadi John has picked you out to star in an ISIS / Daesh video and he threatens you [redacted to be in good taste]…. well, I hope you get the point.

So, Kol Nidre has become more dear to me in recent years.

But here’s the lesson for our daily and relentless pursuit of virtue. We need to make things right with our friends and relations. We also need to make things right with God.  Judaism tends to focus on the making amends to friends and relations with 39 days devoted to that and one evening to Kol Nidre.  Christianity, with its Confirmation, rededication, and numerous alter calls, tends focus more on getting right with God.  As men and women of faith and virtue we cannot neglect either.  We must make amends to our friends and relations; we must ask forgiveness from the Divine and we must live more righteously tomorrow than we did yesterday.

Opinions expressed in these writings are my own and are not endorsed by any Rabbi, Rebbe, Priest, Minister, Pastor, Bishop, Imam or Shiekh; neither are they endorsed by my employers, the National Guard, or the Department of Defense.

If you have a favorite Rosh HaShanna or Yom Kippur tradition that you want tell the Internet about, please share in the comments.  If you enjoyed this piece, why not take another moment and follow some of the links below to others?  Why not click the follow button, and bring your friends back with you?

Choosing who we are and what we value (part 1)

Constitution Day falls in September, in the USA.  It makes the date when the U. S. Constitution went into effect after the ratification process in the thirteen original States.   Constitution Day also reminds of the promise made to many of the States which had hesitated to ratify the Constitution because it didn’t sufficiently guarantee the rights, privileges and immunities they had recently fought a war to secure.  The first Congress of the U.S. made good on that promise and delivered in the form of the Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights secures in the law of the land many rights specified and alluded to in the Declaration of Independence, among the life and liberty, private ownership of property, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.  The Constitution does not mention the Divine, but the first amendment secures freedom of religion; that is to say, freedom to conduct our lives and daily affairs according to our understand of the Divine and what the Divine calls us to do and to avoid; or not.

It wasn’t that long ago that Americans recognized the role of the Divine in the affairs of men. The Declaration of Independence refers to unalienable rights granted by a Creator, appeals to the Supreme Judge of the world, to Divine Providence, and Nature’s God. The Continental Congress opened its regular sessions with prayer during the War for Independence. Presidents have ended speeches with “God bless America,” for as long as newsmen have had recording devices to capture their words. Our money still says “In God we trust” on it.

There was no debate over whether it was the Congregationalists’ God, the Puritans’ God, the Catholics’ God, the Deists’ God or the Jews’ God. All agreed that man was under the Divine and had a responsibility to understand and operate within Natural Law.

We have a couple more religions in our country today than we did at the time of the founding. And while the secularists, humanists and atheists claim to control the national agenda, over 80% of Americans believe in the Divine as some form of Deity, with most of those being Christians and Jews. Americans and their institutions used to acknowledge that even though many of us understood the Divine differently than others (all those different sects and denominations) we all agreed that the Divine was over us and we had to operate within Natural Law.

As I tipped in the title of this post, this is going to be a series, because I can’t get to everything I want to say in one post of readable length. Eight hundred words being the standard length for a “column,” from the old days of ink and paper and printed newspapers.  In this series, I’m going to highlight some major cultural decisions we’re facing today, in the U. S. and the world, and make a moral, ethical case for doing the Judeo-Christian right thing. Hopefully, this series will be interspersed with some pieces on the Jewish fall Holy Days and reviews of fall TV premiers.  But I may leave off writing about the television, because another series of mine, “So, what are we Celebrating,” is still missing any more than a passing reference to the Jewish fall Holy Days. I feel remiss in that omission. Soon, it will be time that I rectified that.


Planned Parenthood Part 2

Let’s get down to where the rubber meets the road.  Planned Parenthood has not denied that they trade in livers, hearts, kidneys, lungs, and other organs …many of the same organs that come from organ donations. So, it is not just a blob of cells like NARAL and other abortion advocates have said for nearly 50 years.

When I was an Army Reservist, years ago, I was trained as a Combat Lifesaver. The first thing they taught us was to check for pulse. If the casualty has a heartbeat — no matter how slow or faint — he/she is alive.  Unborn babies in the womb have a heartbeat in the first trimester.  I know this from experience because I heard my son’s heartbeat during the third month when my former wife was pregnant with him.

In almost any medical procedure a heartbeat is the standard for being alive. If not heart beat, brain waves on the EEG, is the standard for being alive. Unborn babies have a brainwave pattern and a heartbeat in the second trimester.

I have friends who work in neonatal and premie ICU. Premature babies born before 30 weeks have lived.

In a newly released sting video, Center for Medical Progress shows Planned Parenthood employees discussing “intact foetal cadavers” in a very upfront and cavalier tone.  Planned Parenthood has called these videos heavily edited. They imply that some sort of context is left out. What kind of context makes trading baby organs acceptable in a civilized society?!?!?

If a pregnancy threatens a mother’s life, I can rationalize ending it, but if the baby is at 24 weeks put her in the premie ICU. Save both lives. If the mother doesn’t want the baby someone will adopt her.

In cases of incest, I can rationalize ending the pregnancy.

In cases of rape … Find, try, convict and execute the rapist. The baby is innocent. If the baby is at 24 weeks deliver by ceserian section and put him in premie ICU. Someone will adopt. Before twenty weeks, I can’t tell rape victims what to do.

So, I can see some exceptions where abortion could be acceptable in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy jeopardizes the life of the mother. But otherwise in cases where the unborn baby has a heartbeat and brainwaves, he or she is alive. 

He or she is a child. A child is possibility, hope, potential, love, responsibility…but not a punishment. Someone will adopt. Someone will love, even babies with birth defects or developmental concerns.

I believe that life begins at conception. I assert that other than the exceptions I described above, abortion is murder. Murder is horrible and illegal. Other than the above exceptions abortion should be illegal, too.

These veiws are my own and not endorsed by the National Guard or the DOD.

Defund Planned Parenthood; they traffic human organs which is illegal

A pro-life group called the Center for Medical Progress has been making headlines in the conservative media for the last several days with undercover videos of Planned Parenthood leaders and doctors discussing trafficking in human organs.  At least one of the videos was taken in a public place and another was taken in a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Planned Parenthood has responded aggressively: calling the videos heavily edited, saying they don’t actually make any profit from foetal tissue/ baby organs, asking the media to ignore the stories, even getting a gag order from a judge in California.  But they have not denied that they traffic in the organs of aborted babies.

This is disgusting.  This is immoral.  This can’t be legal. Planned Parenthood should no longer receive Federal funding.  That money should be diverted to hospitals and clinics that treat women and children, without offering abortions.


Thank you for reading.  These opinions are my own and are not shared by my employers, the Texas National Guard or the DoD.



Marriages and the Sacred (pt 2)

Gay-marriage is now settled law. How did we get here?  Pastors, Priests, Rabbis, Imams, Minsters, Rebbes, Bishops, Cardinals and other leaders of our various sacred institutions didn’t stand up, lock arms and declare to the world that marriage is a sacrament, is an inherently religious and sacred covenant to be defined by our various sacred orders, according to how these orders understand their sacred writings, traditions, teachings and doctrines. 

This issue is probably going to merit many pieces on my blog, like Ferguson did last year. For now here are some more thoughts. 

Marriage is a sacred institution; secular courts and legislatures have no business imposing themselves in it.  

If the Southern Baptist Convention and Orthodox Judaism want to define marriage as one man, on woman, no one should stop them. If the Unitarian Universalists, the Presbyterian Church USA, or Reform Judaism want to have a different definition, no one should stop that either.

My friends in the LGBT community and their straight supporters have argued gay-marriage to me on basis of rights of inheritance, next-of-kin, visitation in hospitals, pension benefits, health plans and a host of other inherently secular concerns. Those problems could all be solved with powers of attorney or a secular union. Marriage, as a sacred institution is not primarily concerned with such matters. Marriage is about a man and a woman consecrating their exclusive relationship in the sight of the Divine. Our various sacred leaders should have looked away from their book sales numbers, television ratings, weekly tithe receipts — and figuring out how to stand up in the face of a national health care law demanding they violate the tenets of their faiths — long enough to wrest marriage back into the realm of the sacred. If the state, or county wants to have a secular union to merge property and finances and establish next of kin, etc; let them do that. Those are secular matters that our sacred leaders equally have no say in.

And I say this as a divorced father. I will continue to fellowship and attend worship in congregations that understand marriage as one man/ on woman. To be remarried to a woman, I would gladly forgo a synagogue wedding if that’s what the rabbis decided. Preserving the institution of marriage is bigger than my personal desires, emotional needs and quest for dignity.
And these are my own views not necessarily shared by the National Guard, Dept of the Army or DoD.