Living Dangerously

August 17th, 2019

“But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” – the words of Moses, from the Book of Deuteronomy

“Live dangerously and you live right.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Rabbi Dinin gave a quick sermon just prior to the Torah reading. I didn’t stay for the actual reading. I probably should have. It was the Parashat Va’etchanan, and, like all the parts of the Torah, it has several layers of meaning. The rabbi spoke briefly about the need for every person to “watch yourself”. As I understood it, he meant that, in order to remember and follow the commandments of God, each individual has to care for his or her own physical body, and refrain from doing dangerous things. Caring for one’s own body is an act of gratitude toward God.

That all seems very reasonable, but…what does it really entail?

Let me say upfront that that the rabbi’s sermons make me think. Sermons should do that. Sadly, I cannot remember most of the sermons that I have heard during the course of my life. Preaching can cause amnesia in the listener. It is not unusual for me to forget everything I heard in church, once I leave the parking lot. However, this rabbi keeps me interested even after I walk out of the synagogue. That is remarkable.

It is hard to argue that caring for one’s own body is a bad thing. Hell, Karin tells me to put on a scarf when it’s cold outside. There are plenty of exercise and health gurus to tell us that smoking, drinking, doping, and all the other usual vices are bad for us. However, we keep doing those things. Well, I keep doing some of these things. Other people have greater willpower and fortitude than I do. I have made peace with several of my bad habits, and I don’t expect to abandon them any time soon.

Then there is the subject of living dangerously. I have great respect for those people who live on the edge. I admire the ones who can befriend danger.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Do I ever live on the edge? Yes, at times. I certainly lived on the edge when I was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. For five years I did things that were objectively crazy. I distinctly remember moments of raw terror. Do I regret having had these experiences? No, not at all. Those were the times when I felt completely alive.

Now, I look at our kids. They are all fearless, and occasionally reckless.

Hans joined the Army, and he went to fight in Iraq in 2011. He got shot twice, and he killed people. When he came back from the war, he started skydiving to get the necessary Adrenalin rush. He bought himself a Kawasaki crotch rocket, and cranked it up to 150 mph on the Texas Motor Speedway. He really likes guns. He has been with motorcycle gangs. He has worked in the oil fields, and now he pumps concrete for a living. Enough said. 

Our daughter has done many brave things. She has also done things that were perhaps unwise. Enough said.

Stefan is an Iron Worker. By definition, he lives dangerously. Stefan sends us videos of himself, walking on steel beams that are several stories above the ground. He was once suspended in a cage from a crane, about 24 stories above downtown Milwaukee to do some work on a building project. In his free time he rides a motorcycle. Enough said.

There is a fine line between courage and stupidity. Some of us cross that line a bit too often.

The paradox is that we need to care for ourselves, and we also need to push ourselves to find our limits. We can’t always play it safe. I know people who have played it safe for their entire lives. In the end, they will be just as dead as I will be. The only difference is that I have stories to tell, and they don’t.

How do we serve God best? Each person’s journey is different. Some people, like Thérèse of Lisieux, lived lives of quiet contemplation, and they have inspired millions to emulate them. Others, like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr, had wild adventures, and they likewise inspire many people.

I guess the point is for each person to find his or her unique path to the Divine. You have to “watch yourself”. So do I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ein altes Ehepaar

August 11th, 2019

Father Michael blessed our marriage at the end of Mass today. He blessed another couple last Sunday. The previous husband and wife team had been together for fifty-seven years. Karin and I only have thirty-five years. We’re just getting started.

Father Michael has a standard format that he uses to bless marriages. He starts by asking the couple,

“Do you remember when the priest told you to give the sign of peace to your spouse?”

Apparently, that is the usual way for the priest to have the husband kiss his new bride, at least in America. Karin and I wouldn’t know about that. We were married in Karin’s home village in Germany, and her Lutheran pastor presided over our wedding ceremony. For us, it was all very different.

Father Michael asked us his leading question.

I promptly replied, “We didn’t do that.”

I said that just to be contrary. It’s what I do.

Father Michael was not deterred. He said to us,

“Well, you will NOW!”

So, Karin and I hugged each other in front of the congregation.

Father Michael rolled his eyes, and said,

“Frank, she’s your wife, not your sister. Kiss her!”

We tried again. We kissed. People applauded. Karin was happy. Father Michael was satisfied.

Later, Karin and I had brunch with Stefan at an African/Caribbean restaurant. Then we went to the Sprecher Tap for a couple beers. Stefan’s girlfriend, Beth, works there part time as a bartender.

We sat at the bar, and Karin showed Beth photos from our wedding. Karin had them on her phone. Beth looked at the pictures and laughed.

I asked, “Is that a mocking kind of laugh?”

Beth shook her head and smiled, “No, these pictures are just so sweet. You two look so young.

Well, yeah. We were young then. Now we are an old married couple, “ein altes Ehepaar”.

Karin explained some of the pictures; like who the people were and where the photos were taken. Beth already knew some of our wedding stories. She knew about how Karin had been kidnapped by the single male guests at our reception, and how I had to track her down in various taverns in the village. Beth thought that sounded totally fun. Beth liked the picture us making a procession though Karin’s hometown, from her parents’ house to the church.

Stefan had already heard the legends of our wedding many times, so he was a bit bored. Beth looked at him. She said,

“I always thought that you looked like your mom, but I see now that you look a lot like your dad.”

Stefan shrugged.

Beth looked at a picture of me at the wedding, and then she stared straight at me. She looked at the photo on the phone again, and then she asked me,

“So, who is this guy in the picture?”

I answered, “Don’t know. He doesn’t come around any more.”

Beth laughed. She said,

“I never really thought of you guys as being old. I mean Karin looks pretty much the same, but you…well, you have had some interesting years, eh?”

“Yeah, I got some mileage.”

She smiled and asked, “Would you have it any other way?”

I shook my head, but then told her, “There are a couple things that I would have preferred not to have experienced…”

Beth replied quickly, “Okay, so what are your regrets? You brought it up.”

I wasn’t ready for that. Would anybody be ready for that? Beth has the tendency to ask piercing questions at unexpected times. There aren’t many specific actions that I regret. I wish that I hadn’t spent so many years as an angry bastard, but that is kind of general.

I could have told Beth that I regret joining the military. In retrospect I clearly did not belong in the Army. On the other hand, if I hadn’t joined up, I would have never gone to West Germany, and I would have never met Karin, and Stefan wouldn’t be alive, and we wouldn’t have celebrated our anniversary yesterday at the taproom, and Beth wouldn’t have asked me about my regrets.

With Karin with me, I had no regrets.

 

 

 

 

 

Killing the Killers

August 11th, 2019

This letter was published yesterday in the Capital Times. I wanted to say much more in the article, but I decided to be brief and to the point. It usually works better that way.

 

“Officials from the state of Texas have decided to pursue the death penalty against the shooter in El Paso. Likewise, President Trump today announced that he wants to use capital punishment in the cases of mass murderers and perpetrators of hate crimes. The prosecutors in Texas and our president all think it is good idea for the government to kill the killers.

But is it a good idea?

Is the death penalty a deterrent? Severe consequences for heinous crimes make sense if the person who intends to commit the crime is rational. However, President Trump has already stated that he thinks that both the shooter in El Paso and the shooter in Dayton are mentally ill. The death penalty obviously stops a murderer from killing again, but does the execution of the criminal keep others from copying him? Especially for people like white nationalists, wouldn’t the death of the convicted murderer just make him a martyr for the cause?

Do we stop violence with more violence?”

Dove Bars and Snickers

August 7th, 2019

The Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center isn’t a bad facility, but it’s still a prison. It’s nestled in a country setting near Union Grove, Wisconsin. From a distance it looks quite nice; surrounded by cornfields, and groves of mature oaks and hickories. It is only when you get close enough to see the high chain link fences and the razor wire that you realize that this is not a happy place.

Karin and I drove there a few days ago to meet up with the girl that we love. We parked our car in the lot, and then we went inside of a bureaucratic building in order to be cleared by a guard so that we visit with the young woman. The inspection process at Ellsworth is just as stringent as it is at the Taycheedah prison, which is a maximum security facility. It’s just that at Ellsworth, the guards aren’t wound so tight. When we went to Taycheedah to see our girl, it often felt like the visitors were considered to be criminals as the inmates. At Ellsworth, the guard does his job, but it’s slightly more relaxed. He isn’t afraid to joke around a bit, especially if he knows some of the visitors.

There was a guy going through security who was obviously a regular. He gave the guard a slip of paper that indicated the name of the prisoner that he wanted to visit. The guard looked at it for an unusually long time, shook his head, and then told the man,

“She’s in the hole” (i.e. she’s in solitary confinement).

That is something that you would never say to somebody, unless you knew for sure that the person understood that it was a joke. The visitor knew it was joke. Both he and the guard laughed. Dark humor. Very dark humor.

Karin and I strolled through the prison security, and found ourselves in the visitors area. The guard there told us to “sit anywhere”. At Taycheedah, the guard assigned you to a specific table. This was something new. After a short while, the girl appeared. She gave us quick hugs, and then suggested that we go outside and sit at one of the picnic tables.

The three of us sat at a table under a large oak tree. On the other side of the fence, some women were working in a garden. Other inmates were walking along a path, or playing basketball. Kids were climbing around on the playground equipment (a number of the prisoners are mothers, and their children were visiting them). There was very little privacy to be had.

The young woman was edgy. She had tried all day to contact her boyfriend on the outside, and he had not picked up. The girl told us that he was probably dead, otherwise he would be answering his phone. Karin suggested that maybe he was busy, or maybe he just misplaced his cell phone. The girl wasn’t buying either of those explanations.

The girl’s lip trembled slightly. Then she silently wept.

Sometimes, nothing can be done. Karin tried to console the girl, but I am not sure that she wanted to be consoled. I sat at the table across from the young woman, and I said nothing. I looked away for a while, and then I glanced back at her. The girl was trying pull herself back together, and I could see that it was real struggle for her. Slowly, her tension ebbed away, and she wiped a few tears off her cheeks. She took a breath.

I asked her, “You want an ice cream?”

She swallowed hard and nodded when I asked her that question.

I asked her, “What should I get?”

She replied, “See if they have Dove bars. If not, then a Snickers.”

I started to get up.

She stopped me and said, “Oh, and a Mountain Dew.”

I went inside the building to the vending machines.

I checked the selection on the ice cream machine. It was limited. No Dove bars here. Taycheedah always had Dove bars. They were awesome ice cream bars. The machine did have Snickers ice cream. That was pretty good too. I pumped in $3.00 worth of quarters, and scooped up the precious chunk of chocolate goodness. Then I went to the soda machine, and got the girl her Mountain Dew.

I returned to the picnic table. The girl and had been conversing with Karin. Her face lit up when she saw the ice cream. She tore off the wrapper and started to eat it. It seemed like she was unsure as to how she wanted to eat the Snickers bar. She was torn between gobbling it down and slowly savoring it. She began by eating it slowly, and then she ripped through it. She sighed deeply once it was done.

“Uh, so, do you want another one?”

The girl took a hit off of her Mountain Dew and said, “Not right now.”

The three of us talked. The conversation wandered through various topics.

The girl told us, “I was walking with one of the other girls. I told her that we couldn’t get Dove bars here. She kept telling me that wasn’t true. We argued for a while, and then I figured out that she thought I was talking about soap.”

We laughed.

Karin asked the girl if she had made any friends at Ellsworth.

The young woman frowned, and said, “Not really, but one of the women asked me if I wanted to be her girlfriend.”

It got quiet for a moment. I asked her,

“And you said…”

She gave me a hard look and replied, “I said ‘no’. ”

“So, you decided to remain heterosexual?”

She nodded.

Then she told us, “Yeah, well, the people who have girlfriends, they give each other love notes. They fold up the envelopes really small and slide them under the other person’s door. They call them ‘dyke kites’. ”

I asked her, “You want another ice cream?”

“Yeah. What else do they have?”

“Well, they have some kind of strawberry cheesecake thing.”

She raised an eyebrow.

I went on, “And they have a chocolate eclair ice cream bar.”

She got serious. “Does it look good?”

“It looks very chocolaty.”

The girl smiled. “Get me that one.”

The young woman ate the second ice cream more slowly, paying attention to the texture and the flavor. She made it last.

We talked about books. Karin and I send her books. She had just finished reading “The Godfather”. I told her about the movie, which she has never seen. I told her about what a great job Marlon Brando did in the film.

She asked me, “Is he fat?”

“Not in that movie.”

“But in the book, he dies of a heart attack.”

“Well, yeah, but you don’t have to be fat to get a heart attack.”

“But in the book, the guy is short and stubby.”

“Okay. In the movie he’s not.”

I thought for a moment. “In the movie, they have a part where he talks having about ‘an offer you can’t refuse’.”

The girl nodded. “They say that a lot in the book.”

She asked, “Is there another ‘Godfather’ book?”

“Well, there is a sequel to the first movie. Mario Puzo wrote a lot of books.”

The girl told me, “If there is another ‘Godfather’ book, I want it.”

“Okay. I’ll look. Do you want more ice cream?”

The young woman smiled. “Yeah. Snickers.”

I smiled back. “Okay.”

The girl ate the third ice cream bar slowly and deliberately. She was reaching the saturation point. She was also getting tired. The conversation faltered. It was late. The sun was hanging low in the west.

We said our goodbyes. The girl promised to call us the next day.

Karin went to visit the girl yesterday, without me.

They had Dove bars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never Again

August 1st, 2019

“I read the news today, oh boy…”

the beginning of the song, “A Day in the Life”, by the Beatles

I went to a rally yesterday morning. I am no stranger to demonstrations. In an odd way, they sometimes bore me. These events have a familiar pattern and ritual. There are seldom any surprises, but maybe that’s a good thing. I have been to demonstrations that had surprises, and those were scary situations.

The rally was organized by “Never Again”, a Jewish organization committed to preventing a repeat of the events that occurred during the Holocaust. They have their work cut out for them. At this time, the group is protesting against the actions of ICE and the rest of the Trump administration toward immigrants and refugees. Never Again sees similarities between what is happening in our country now, and the outrages that occurred in Nazi Germany. The comparison is by no means perfect, but there are definitely some disturbing parallels. As Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

I met a couple people that I know from Voces de la Frontera when I arrived at the rally. Natalia was hoping that I would volunteer to be a marshal for the march from Cathedral Square to the ICE building several blocks away. I had not planned to stay very long at the demonstration, so I declined her offer. The main reason for not hanging around for the entire event was the fact that I had only enough loose change to feed the parking meter for an hour. I know that is pretty lame, but it’s the truth.

There were various people speaking to the crowd before the march got moving. That is standard operating procedure for a rally. Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison spoke. U.S. representative Gwen Moore encouraged the crowd of  protesters to speak out. Josh, the leader of the marshals (yellow jackets) gave guidance to everyone who planned to participate in the march.

Songs were sung. That is also kind of standard for this sorts of rally. What was unusual this time was that some of the songs were in Hebrew, some in Spanish, some in English, or in a combination of all three languages. That was impressive, but a bit confusing to me at times. I should have looked at my song sheet.

Most of the crowd was most definitely Jewish, but in an eclectic sort of way. There were some LGBTQ folks there. There were some women wearing kippot (yarmulkes), which was something new to me. Obviously, the men wore them too. There were a number of people wearing “Jews Against ICE” t-shirts. Man, I wish that I had one of those shirts. They looked so cool. Anyway, it was an interesting mix of people.

I spoke briefly to a young guy named Micah, who had come to Milwaukee from Madison for the demonstration. He works with Jewish students at the university in Madison, Wisconsin. I told him that I go to services at Lake Park Synagogue in Milwaukee.  He wasn’t familiar with our shul, but then why should he be? It was the first time he had ever been to Milwaukee.

I have been going to Lake Park Synagogue (LPS) for about ten years now, on a semi-regular basis. I sort of fit in. I can honestly say that my understanding of Judaism remains marginal. I have learned a few things, but there are many other aspects of the tradition that I don’t quite grasp. Even after a decade of being part of the community, I still have more questions than answers.

One question that comes to mind is this: “Why are these Jews protesting against the treatment of immigrants who are overwhelmingly Latino?”

The answer to that question partially lies in the recent history of the Jewish people. The Holocaust (also known as the Shoah) is is deeply and permanently embedded in the Jewish psyche. The Holocaust is not something theoretical to these folks. It is personal and very, very real. I doubt that many, if any, of the people at the demonstration were even alive when World War II ended. However, I bet that nearly everybody there had a friend or family member who was murdered by the Nazis, or who somehow survived the concentration camps. Almost all the victims of the Holocaust are dead, but their experiences and stories survive them. It’s a living history.

One of the hallmarks of Judaism is remembrance. In the Torah, the Children of Israel are constantly exhorted to remember. If they can remember the destruction of the temple (by the Babylonians, and later by the Romans), they can certainly remember the Shoah. These events aren’t really in the past. They are part of the here and now.

Assuming that I am correct, then Never Again sees the past in the present. It is likely that they recognize the actions of the Gestapo whenever ICE agents kick in an immigrant’s door and rip a family apart. They relive the horror of having children stripped away from their parents. It doesn’t matter that the children are from Central America, they are still kids, just like the children that lived in Europe seventy-five years ago.

We walked several blocks from Cathedral Park to the ICE building on Knapp Street. Typically, on a march like this, somebody tries to fire up the participants by starting a chant. Personally, I hate that. It’s not that I am against rabble-rousing, but the chants can get kind of stale. For instance:

Leader: “What do we want?”

Unruly crowd: “Close the camps!”

Leader: “When do we want it?”

Unruly crowd, “NOW!”

I’ve heard all that before. It doesn’t get better with age.

On the other hand, There were some other chants that resonated with me.

One of the leaders of the march yelled out, “Never again is NOW!”

Right on.

I had to think about that. There was a time when the population of the entire planet vowed that the murder of six million people would never happen again. Not any more. Now there are throngs of Holocaust deniers. They say that it was all fake news, or part of some Zionist conspiracy.

Hate is a virus. It can be stopped for a while, but then it mutates and finds a new host. The virus still exists in Germany, albeit in a slightly altered form. However, it seems like America is the new host. The virus thrives here. Injustice is a disease. It is like the Ebola of the soul. It can’t be killed, but it can be stopped. Maybe.

Another slogan that was shouted out was: “Don’t look away!”

We do look away. I know that I do. I’m guilty of that.

We can’t look away. It was made clear during the march that people need to speak out now about what is happening to immigrants in our cities and to asylum seekers at our borders.

Why?

It is human nature to look away from the evil that does not directly affect us. We can shrug our shoulders and say things like: “I don’t know any of those people”, or “They are breaking the law”, or “It’s not my problem”. These statements all seem so reasonable, at first. They are satisfactory until the evil kicks in our door, but then it’s a bit too late. If we allow the government (or anyone else) to selectively abuse a particular group of people, we can be assured that our turn will come.

The march was “déjà vu all over again,” to quote Yogi Berra. We are fighting against something that we had thought was defeated. The virus is back, and the infection is spreading. Maybe we can stop it this time. It almost destroyed the world last time.

Never again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lighting a Candle

July 30th, 2019

The church at Subiaco Abbey was empty this afternoon. I went in there. It was quiet and cool. The only light came from the stain glass windows, of which there were many. Most of the windows told the story of the life of St. Benedict, the patron of the monks who live at Subiaco. There were two rose windows on either side of the church. One window had an image of St. Benedict, while the window opposing it showed a picture of St. Scholastica, Benedict’s sister. Near each window was a shrine with a metal rack of votive candles. The candles were white, paraffin cylinders resting inside of red, glass containers. Some of the candles were lit, and they showed faintly in the dim light of the church.

I had been thinking of three young people when I walked into the church. One of them was our eldest son, Hans: the newly married man, and the father of a lively seven-month-old son. Another of them was a young woman who just got transferred to a minimum security prison, and who calls Karin and me every day. The third person was Stefan, our youngest son, who does difficult and dangerous jobs in his role as an Iron Worker. All three of them were on my mind.

I looked at the flickering candles, and I decided to light one for the three young people. I don’t often light candles, but it felt right. I decided to use one of the big candles, not one of the tealights. I noticed that there were no large candles left on the rack near St. Scholastica. Everything on that side was already burning. Walking over to the St. Benedict shrine, I found a couple fresh candles, but nothing at all was lit there. A person has to use a thin wooden stick to ignite a new candle from one that is already lit. This caused a slight dilemma.

I lit the stick from a burning candle on the St. Scholastica side and carefully carried it over to St. Benedict. The flame flickered and sputtered as I slowly walked between the pews. I thought about Hans as I watched the end of the wooden rod. I thought about how he sits on his porch, smoking Pall Malls and drinking cans of Lime-A-Ritas. He sits there and ponders. I don’t what he thinks about. It could be little Weston, or it could be his wife, Gabby, or it could be his brutal job pumping concrete, or it might be bad shit from the war in Iraq. I don’t know.

I got the still burning stick to a fresh candle. The candle brightened. I blew out the flame at the end of the stick.

I also managed to blow out the candle.

I went back to visit St. Scholastica and asked her for another light. I restarted the flame on the wooden stick and, once again, carefully nursed it along as I walked to St.Benedict’s shrine. I thought about the girl in prison. She is doing better than she was in Taycheedah, but her situation still sucks mightily. She is struggling. At least she got the art supplies that we sent to her.

I lit the same candle. The flame was small, weak, and obviously going out. The wick was too short. I tried to carve the wax around it with my pocket knife. The light grew faint, and was extinguished.

I needed to make another journey to see Benedict’s sister. I lit the stick a third time, and navigated through the pews to the other side of the church. I thought about Stefan. He is trying so hard to be self-sufficient and independent. He called us on Sunday because he found himself a bit short on money for his rent. It didn’t bother me, but it really bothered him. He was endlessly apologetic on the phone. I tried to explain that these things happen. I tried to make it clear that it’s okay to ask us for help. We’re his parents. It’s our job to help.

I tried a different candle. It ignited. The flame looked a bit delicate. I stared at it until it looked like it was going make it. I said a prayer for the three young people.

Does lighting a candle actually make a difference? Does a single flame in an empty church change the situation of any of those three? Probably not. It is unlikely that the candle changes anything for them.

The candle only changes me. I makes me think of them, and pray for them, and at some point help them.

The candle is still burning.

 

Spiritual Warfare

July 27th, 2019

On Tuesday morning, Karin and I went to coffee with a friend after Mass. Our friend is a good man, and he takes his faith seriously. He is very concerned about the bad things that are happening in the world. He believes that Satan is on the move. He talks about being engaged in spiritual warfare.

I don’t like the phrase “spiritual warfare”.  It sounds dramatic. It also sounds wrong somehow. It implies an endless struggle between the forces of good and evil.

It reminds me of a story…

Ten years ago, I started going to an orthodox synagogue. I still go there. At the beginning I was eager to learn more about Judaism, and I wanted to ask questions. My rabbi at the time was a busy man, and I knew that he didn’t have the leisure to answer all of my queries. Rabbi Levin suggested that I meet with Avi, an older rabbi who did not have his own congregation. I followed his advice and I contacted Avi.

I met Avi at his home on the east side of Milwaukee. He greeted me at his door. Avi was in a wheelchair. He had undergone surgery on his left foot. He didn’t have a right one. He rolled himself into his dining room, and we both sat at his heavy, wooden table.

A house can tell a visitor many things. For instance, if somebody comes to our house, they would soon realize that Catholics live there. Every room in our home has a crucifix, and/or an icon. Avi’s home told me things too. The walls were covered with Stars of David and Hebrew writings. He had mezuzah scrolls on very doorpost. The house clearly said that its occupants were Jewish.

Avi looked tired. He asked me,

“So, do want to convert?”

I quickly replied, “No.”

He looked perplexed, “So, why are you here?”

“I have questions.”

He nodded, “And so, what are your questions?”

I thought for a moment, and asked him, “What’s a Jew?”

Avi shrugged and said, “So, what’s a Jew? Where do I start?”

We talked for over three hours, and we never adequately answered my question. However, we spoke of many things, including the Book of Job. I mentioned to Avi that Job did not show God in a very positive light, and it made me wonder about the role of the devil in the universe.

Avi looked at me with something akin to pity. He sighed and said,

“You Christians, you have such a Manichean worldview. You think that there is an even fight between God and the devil? The two sides aren’t equal. God is always in charge. Always.”

I asked him about Satan.

Avi sighed again.

“Okay, look at it this way. Let’s say you take a math course in college, a really difficult class. It comes time for the final exam. Do you think that the proctor is going to ask you to draw a triangle? No! He is going to ask you the hardest question that he can! He’s going to test you!

What do we call Satan? He is the ‘tester’, the ‘accuser’. Even he does the will of Hashem.”

I asked Avi, “So Satan is God’s quality control guy?”

Avi shrugged. “You could say that.”

So, God is always in charge. If that’s so, then what are we worried about? I have heard Christians say the same sort of thing. When a person has some horrible, intractable problem, it is not unusual for a Christian to say something lame like, “it’s all part of the Lord’s plan”. That statement can mean almost nothing, and it is often irritating to the person with the problem (it certainly is to me).

As I understand it, Christianity is all about the victory of Jesus over the forces of evil. Listen to any Easter hymn and you will hear about the triumph of Christ over Satan and Death. Well, if He won the war, then why are we still fighting?

The folks who talk about spiritual warfare seem to want it both ways. Christ won the victory, but Satan still reigns on earth. To me that makes no sense. Either we are saved, or we aren’t.

Let’s say that Satan still has some power. Evil still exists. So does good. How do we combat evil? Scriptures clearly say that we do it through love. Other faith traditions say the same thing. Violence is not the answer. Violence just makes evil stronger.

The word “warfare” implies violence. Even “spiritual warfare” implies violence. It is a slippery slope from “love your enemies” to “jihad”. A person may start out opposing abortion because they love babies. That same person may eventually become bitter and end up hating abortionists. I’ve seen that. It can be the same way with peace activists. They start out loving peace, and end up despising soldiers. I’ve seen that too.

Sometimes people ask me what I believe.

I believe that love wins in the end. Everything else is superfluous.