Choose Life

 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.

Now choose life.

Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV)

Moses goes out with a bang. He wraps up the Law and reconfirms the covenant. But it’s not over. Don’t forget about the spoils.

God will reward obedience with prosperity. Those who are scattered will be brought together. Lost fortunes will be found. God will open your heart far enough to love, and He will delight in your existence.

But the draw of reward cannot exist without the possibility for punishment. For disobedience, the Lord will let charity and compassion die. Crops will die. Peace will die. Foreigners will infest the land and bring with them plagues and famine. Sickness will be plenty. Slavery will be reinstated. Moses caps this list of curses with an ominous declaration: “You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life” (Deuteronomy 28:66).

Then Moses climbs a mountain, watches his people enter the Promised Land, and dies.

That’s the Law people.

I am not surprised by this black-and-white conclusion. On the contrary, this section’s existence and presentation perfectly exemplify one of my biggest hang ups with the Judeo-Christian tradition – fear as motivation. Moses rattles off 24 verses of blessings as compared to 53 on curses, and this one-to-two ratio generalizes the tone of the first five books of the Bible. Frankly, this has been a negative journey so far. I do not mean negative in my experience, but rather, I never expected to read the word “no” so many times.

The choice is set out before us, Moses says before his passing. “Choose life.” He makes a pretty great case for choosing life – or choosing obedience – and it is 53 verses long. Moses may as well left off the other 24 verses, because they mean nothing to me. I am making a philosophical distinction here: the differing levels of motivation that positive versus negative reinforcement provide. And for me, it is all negative. I am far more motivated by the punishments of Christianity than the spoils.

Choose life. Choose life. This phrasing absolutely baffled me when I first read it, so much so that I spent days unable to move past it. It has completely rocked my worldview. Because I am realizing that my definition of “life” has no similarity to Moses’. At least I feel like they are different. My view of life involves generalizing morals into an ever evolving thought process. The Bible’s perspective appears much more rigid and based on criteria.

I am entering a new section of the Bible, which outlines the rise of the Israelites and the birth of the prophets. And I am now on the lookout for what a life of God looks like. If it is fear-based, then I may succumb to belief from anxiety, but nothing more. If it means something entirely different, then maybe… maybe it will all make sense.

You Can Totally Follow All These Laws

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

Deuteronomy 30:11 (NIV)

I have been fired twice in my life.

My county allowed teens as young as fourteen to get a work permit, so my Mom signed me up to teach swimming lessons with the local Parks & Rec department. Classes began every Saturday morning at 8 am and took place in the High School’s balmy natatorium. Since I went to church around the same time every Sunday morning, this meant that I had 0 days a week to sleep in. On this basis alone, I had a problem. Also even in eighth grade, I knew that my life’s calling was not swim instruction. Needless to say, I did not enjoy this job, and thus I did not put in all of the required effort to help hapless toddlers stop from drowning. One day, in the view of my superior, I pushed a friend into the pool as a joke; my boss said that I was not cut out for this line of work. What a relief. Fired.

The second occurred many years later after I had graduated college. I charmed my way into an assistant teacher position at a private school for autistic children, and from the get go, my lead teacher and I did not see eye-to-eye. We just had different philosophies – she wanted to “keep the peace” in the room while I wanted to push. Also, as I found out after my dismissal, she actually wanted a female assistant as she felt men just did not have “the instinct.” I was not cut out for this position – my superior had laid all her forces against me – but nonetheless, I wanted this job. So I started scrambling. I altered my approach – much more “maintaining” and less pushing. I changed my demeanor – softer tones and a more delicate touch. But it didn’t work. The teacher just did not want me. They gave me three weeks to improve. I lasted one.

This experience unsettled me in a way that resonated for months thereafter. In this circumstance, I was not some angst-ridden teen forced to wake up early on Saturday mornings; this was my dream job. And in spite of 100% of my efforts, I was simply inadequate for the position. I came just as I was, and they rejected me. It stung like the most intimate of break-ups.

And now it is time to break away from the Torah. I spent the past three weeks reading and cataloguing the Law, and what have I learned? Well, there are 553 laws total – on my count anyway. I provided a list of statistics in the previous entry, such as the most repeated law and the category with the highest total, but what does that tell us?

Not much.

Did you know The Law has a Wikipedia page that catalogues each and every rule? My friend sent it to me, perhaps as a way of discrediting my count of 553, but also to say, “Why did you do all that work when so many have done it before you?”

The answer is simple. Because I wanted to know first hand how God views me.

And according to the Law, I am inadequate. I am inadequate just as I am. Not because of the homosexuality thing, but because of all the things.

Near the end of Deuteronomy, Moses states that we are all completely capable of following the Law. He says it is not like flying into the heavens or crossing the seas; it is simple. Be adequate. You are completely capable of being adequate.

But we all know that we cannot possibly be adequate in God’s eyes; He placed a curse on us for the sins of Adam and Eve due to the fact that we were utter disappointments in our very nature. And the Law further cements this idea, because – and hold on to your hats – it was designed to be completely impossible to follow. Yes, that is what I have learned. God bestowed a standard that no one could ever meet so that we would fully remember our place. We are inadequate, even at our best.

Unlucky enough to be born with a disability? Never enter the presence of the Lord.
Brash enough to have your period? Sit alone for a week.
Gather yourself some firewood on the Sabbath? Lie down and watch the stones fly.

Is it any surprise that about 2/3s of the behavioral laws use negative language?

You want to do something? Asks the Lord, Well, do not do it.
It is your choice, says Moses. It is well within your reach.
You are not enough, says the Bible. You are not enough.

After reading the Law, it is my recommendation that no one ever go near it again. Exactly 0% of the rules still apply in our modern culture, and if Christian theology is correct, it all goes out the window anyway. Stop putting these verses on placards. Don’t reference them in your arguments. Frankly, never quote them again, unless your quote begins with the words, This isn’t true, but…

You want to know what I learned? The Law is dead.

The Full Law (Jesse Is Thankfully Done with the Law)

As Jesus will say approximately six months from now (according to my blog schedule at least):

It is done.

I have finished cataloguing all of the commandments mentioned in the Law and came up with a few interesting statistics. First things first, let’s see our final graph and tallies (alternatively, you can view this info by clicking on “The Law” tab):

FINAL TALLY: 553 LAWS

Final

Final

 


 

FINAL TOTALS

Gods & gods : 47
Sexuality & Relationships : 38
Ritual : 99
Money & Property : 58
Food : 51
Behavior : 121
Sacrifice : 66
Health: 29
Miscellaneous : 44


SUPERLATIVES
(you know… like in high school)

Category with Most Laws: Behavior with 121 laws (22%)

Most Repeated Commandment: “Keep God’s commandments.” (18 mentions)

2nd Most Repeated Commandment: TIE “Remember Sabbath” and “Do not worship other gods.” (13 mentions each)

Number of Laws Forbidding Gay Relationships: 1

Number of Laws Forbidding Lesbian Relationships: 0

Number of Laws Requiring Us to Not Pollute the Earth: 1

Number of Laws Requiring Us to Have Tassels on All Our Garments: 2

Number of Laws Forbidding Various Forms of Incest: 13

Tomorrow… a little analysis. But in the meantime, go up and check out the “Law” tab to see the complete list of entries.

Love the Lord Your God (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 14)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Deuteronomy 6:5 (NIV)

This meme came across my Facebook today:

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I see posts like this all the time, and more often than not, they are in support of some cause that I also happen to support (but not always). Sometimes, well-meaning friends will share them on my wall out of a sort of solidarity to the “cause,” that of gay rights and marriage equality. Coming out as queer – and then creating a blog about it – brought people back into my life that I never thought I would hear from again. What I have learned… a lot more of my friends are gay than I thought. Also, there is support and dissent everywhere; such is the nature of life. This has been eye-opening to say the least.

But posts like the meme above – they exist to let everyone in your circles know exactly where you stand on an issue. Usually they are clever in some way; sometimes they offer a new perspective on a situation. But this one: “A Gay Christian isn’t an oxymoron, but a hateful one most certainly is.” It strikes to the core of the secular view of Christianity – namely that Christians do not appear to be as loving as Jesus. This is a widely espoused belief in the secular world, that Christians do not live up to the mantras of their Christ.

Isn’t Christianity all about love? I have heard that one before. I never knew how to answer that, because I was never really sure. I had heard Love the sinner and hate the sin. Is that what they meant?

We don’t hear much about love in the Law until midway through Deuteronomy. As Moses is recounting the Law before the Israelites cross the Jordan, he brings the topic of love front and center. He commands us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” This is a new concept, even a paradigm shift. Before now, our leaders have commanded us to “obey” God or even “fear” him. Love was not really part of the picture.

So why now? How has love become so engrained in the idea of Christianity, and why aren’t modern Christian projecting that continued view onto the rest of the population? In my reading so far, love has not really been mentioned and has not been a requirement. We have heard of hospitality being a big deal (remember Sodom and Gomorrah?). There have also been quite a few mentions of forgiving debts and freeing slaves. But for every one mention of an act of kindness, the Lord has commanded His people to about a dozen decrees involving negative language. A man was stoned for breaking the Sabbath. An unfaithful wife must get an abortion. Aaron’s sons were consumed by fire for screwing up the sacrifices.

So where is the love?

I am approaching an understanding of why the Law appears in our modern Bible – why it is worthy reading it. I think I know where the love comes into play.

But until I am sure, just remember to love the Lord your God. After all, it has been commanded of you.