Columbus (part 2)

One of my friends, a man I have known and respected for many years, cited the fact that Columbus took slaves as though that invalidated all his achievements, made them fruit of the poison tree.  This all played out in Facebook comments, so some of you may have missed it.  Here’s the rest of the story.

When Columbus returned to the Caribbean Basin on his second voyage, he found that one of his island settlements had been attacked and destroyed.  Columbus had a royal commission from the King and Queen of Spain, placing him in charge of all settlements, trade, etc., in the New World, on their behalf.  At the end of the fifteenth century, there was no United Nations, no Organization of American States, no International Court of Criminal Justice or World Court.  That is to say, Columbus actually was the authority and he alone had the responsibility to protect his settlers.  Or to avenge them.
The destroyed settlement was on an island, and Columbus determined what native tribe had attacked.  At that point he had a choice, three choices, actually.  One, he could let the attack go unchallenged and thereby make all future Spanish settlements vulnerable to further aggression.  Two, he could destroy the tribe that had destroyed his settlement.  Three, he could put that tribe to forced labor for a period of years as punishment for destroying his settlement.  Columbus did not use this attack from the natives, against his settlement, as an excuse to enslave or attack all the natives.  He set the one guilty tribe to forced labor, there by showing that any who attacked his settlements would be punished.

Given that he was the authority and there was no international organization he could appeal to for redress or sanctions, I would say he made the humane choice.

These opinions are my own and are not endorsed by my employers, the National Guard, the DoD or the college form which I graduated.

In brief: Defending Columbus and Praising Pasteur

It has become very popular in recent years to vilify Christopher Columbus.  First, he lost his status as the discoverer of the Americas when historians proved that Viking Leif Ericsson reached Canada hundreds of years before Columbus reached the Bahamas, Hispaniola and Cuba.  Then historians also determined that theories of a spherical Earth had existed since the second century CE.  Finally, Columbus has been impugned as the first practitioner of germ warfare.  Revisionist historians have transformed the Italian mariner who proved the world was round and sailed three tiny ships with a combined crew of a few dozen from Spain to the Caribbean into the man who deliberately orchestrated a campaign of genocide by disease against the Native Americans.

Columbus set sail for India from Spain in August of 1492.   King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castille agreed to finance his expedition shortly after their armies finished driving the Muslims out of Spain, completing the reconquest the Iberian Peninsula for Catholicism.  Columbus sailed on the Santa Maria accompanied by the Nina and Pinta.  When he and his crew arrived in what are now the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, they found the natives prepared to trade.  When the natives grew sick Columbus’ crew and colonists gave them blankets to keep warm.

The meme that goes around now suggests that Columbus deliberately infected the natives with small pox and other European diseases by trading blankets and other infected items that passed the contagion.  He could not have known that his crew and colonists were passing the diseases in the blankets.

Louis Pasteur formulated the germ theory of disease in the mid 1800s.  Pasteur’s ideas didn’t gain acceptance immediately.  Though now even elementary students learn to wash their hands before eating to rid them of tiny germs that could cause illness.  Over three centuries before Pasteur, in the time of Columbus, even physicians would not have conceived of tiny organisms causing disease, to say nothing of mariners, explorers and colonists.

Just as Columbus’ voyage changed the popular conception of a flat earth, forever confirming the ancient hypothesis that the earth was spherical, so Pasteur changed the popular understanding of disease and micro-organisms.  Columbus opened up the Americas to exploration, colonization and the spread of European culture.  Pasteur and his team of scientists developed vaccines for anthrax and rabies and spread the process of killing germs in beverages that bears his name.

Yes, Columbus put some natives to forced labor on his second voyage. No, he wasn’t the first European to reach the Americas.  But he didn’t deliberately spread contagion among the natives.  Columbus and his colonists couldn’t have known about germs because Pasteur wouldn’t prove that bacteria caused disease until Columbus had been dead for over three hundred years.

Lulov and Etrog, image credit to Constantcontact

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.

Image credit:

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.