Monday, April 14, 2014

Baruch Dayan Ha'emet

Yesterday afternoon, I returned to my office at the church after wrapping up a board of directors meeting.  I had about fifteen minutes before my next appointment, so I decided to be a dutiful son and call the rents.  And the news my mom had for me left me absolutely gobsmacked: the Jewish Community Center in my hometown of Overland Park had been one of two sites of a shooting that had left three people dead on the Pesach--on the eve of Passover.

As more and more details about the shootings trickled out, and as I benefited from some much-needed sleep, my thoughts began to find their voice again.  And this is what they say:

I have hugged Holocaust survivors and prayed at the Western Wall.

I have celebrated the bar and bat mitzvahs of friends and I have celebrated Passover seders with others.

I used to work out in the JCC's gym, and my sister used to work in their summer daycare.  We grew up in a home a ten-minute drive away.

I have built up, over the course of my 28 years, a relationship with Judaism that I have, at every turn, benefited intangibly and tremendously from.  Its Scriptures are a part of my Scriptures, its traditions, a part of my traditions.

So even without being Jewish myself, it is so very hard not to take this personally.  Because my own faith owes a debt of gratitude to the historical faith that birthed it.  Because my own life owes a debt of gratitude to friends whose Jewishness was, and is, an integral part of their identities.  And because if people still hate other people because of their faith (or ethnicity, for that matter), it means that religious teachers like me still have not undone the prejudices that have plagued humanity throughout history.

There is a terrible irony in that all three of the three victims were, in fact, not Jewish but Christian--two were a grandfather and grandson who worshiped at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection and who have close familial connections to my own Disciples denomination, the third was a Roman Catholic woman and mother.  A raging anti-Semite who sought to kill Jewish persons in the name of Adolf Hitler wound up slaying a trio of Christians instead.

There's a reason we call it "blind" hatred.  It really, truly, utterly blinds you.  In every possible sense.

I experienced my own blinding of sorts that afternoon--I was angry and upset and I honestly felt like it would be good to take a few swings myself at the perpetrator, Glenn Frazier Miller/Cross...even though he is 73 years old and even though I am a pastor teaching the way of the Prince of Peace.

But then, as I so often do, I reached for Scripture.  I remembered Paul's words in Romans 12:19-- "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'"

Paul, a Jesus follower, is calling upon his Jewish heritage in this verse.  He is quoting Deuteronomy 32:35 and interpreting it to teach that God is the one mete out any retributive justice.  Not humanity.  Paul, just like me, is benefiting from the Jewish Scriptures in his life...and he is interpreting them in such a way to tell me a truth that is both profoundly Jewish and profoundly Christian: God is the only perfect judge of us.

There is a Hebrew saying, sometimes recited in Jewish tradition upon the death of a person: baruch dayan ha'emet.  It translates, roughly, into "blessed be the one true judge."  Blessed be the God who created us and  who receives us into the afterlife upon our earthly death.

And, His Son says to us in the Sermon on the Mount, blessed are you who face persecution for His sake.

Blessed are you who face hardships because you love and follow God.

Blessed are you, because God loves you right back.  And no racist epithets, no anti-Semitic poison, no ancient and shameful prejudices, can change that immutable, monumental, earth-shaking reality.

God loves you right back.  He always has.  He always will.  No matter what the haters may claim to say or do on God's behalf.

Blessed be that God who loves you.

Baruch dayan ha'emet,


  1. Well said, Eric. Speaking for the Jews, thanks for your support and kind words.

  2. Nice work.
    The man killed is the son of a senior minister at FCC Concord.

  3. Thanks, Becky & Russ. Given the emotional nature of this piece, the kind words really are appreciated. I also found out that the 14-year-old grandson was a high school speech and debate student and that one of my forensics mentors just judged a debate of his this past weekend...this is all hitting home for me in many, many ways.

  4. Thank you Eric. So eloquent, so lovely. And so comforting to all who need comfort -- and that is all of us.