The Likeness of God: Brown and Black

The Likeness of God: Brown and Black

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Rabbi Rami Shapiro answers questions from S&H readers. “My priest confided in me that despite her best sermonic efforts, racism still infects our overwhelmingly white church. What else might she do?”

My priest confided in me that despite her best sermonic efforts, racism still infects our overwhelmingly white church. What else might she do?

Rabbi Rami: Seeing is believing; she must change not only what people hear in church but what they see. Every Jew in the Bible was brown or black: Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, David and Solomon, Mary and Joseph, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Paul and the apostles—all of them were brown or black. I suggest she change your stained glass, your statues, and your illustrated Bible storybooks to reflect this fact. Racism among whites will fade when white people realize that black and brown people represented the image and likeness of God long before they did.

I am sick and tired of people calling for “thoughts and prayers” whenever a tragedy occurs. Clearly neither does any good. What else can we do?

Maybe the problem isn’t “thoughts and prayers” but the kinds of thoughts and prayers. My own version of “thoughts and prayers” borrows from two Buddhist practices: metta and tonglen.

When engaging with an individual’s suffering I use metta/lovingkindness meditation: I sit comfortably and still, visualize the person in my mind, and then offer them the following: May you be free from fear. May you be free from compulsion. May you be blessed with love. May you be blessed with peace.

When engaging with larger-scale trauma I practice tonglen/sending and receiving. I sit comfortably and still and use slow rhythmic breathing to open my heart/mind to a sense of expansiveness. I then imagine the suffering I hope to alleviate as something hot, heavy, and foreboding. When this suffering is felt strongly, I breathe it into my body and imagine it being transformed within me into something cool, light, and loving. When the transformation is complete, I breathe this healing energy out into the world. Do either of these practices impact those they are meant to help? I don’t know. But they give me a sense of agency that empowers me to work for justice without falling into the dual traps of self-righteousness and despair.

My husband’s aunt sent us an email about why we, as Christians, should oppose the Equality Act. I disagree with her and want to say so, but my husband doesn’t want family drama. What would you do?

I agree with both you and your husband: Silence can be an act of complicity and stoking an unwinnable family drama is something to avoid. Nevertheless, speaking out on an issue as important as the Equality Act protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination outweighs the risk of family drama. I would email her something like this: “Dear Aunt, while I understand your concerns regarding the Equality Act, I don’t share them, and as a Christian I stand with the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, all of whom support the Equality Act. I am open to civil dialogue, and if you would like to discuss this with me, I’d be happy to do so. But please don’t tell me what all Christians ought to do. Love ...”

I am a Jew and a hunter. I eat what I kill so the animal doesn’t die in vain. My sister insists I can’t be both a Jew and a hunter. Why not?

According to Torah, meat was not originally part of the human diet (Genesis I: 29–30) and only became so after the Flood when the earth was too wet to plant. Meat eating shattered the harmony between humans and animals and replaced it with fear and dread (Genesis 9:2). Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) make meat eating difficult and hunting (even for food) impossible in that Jews can only eat animals that have been ritually slaughtered (not killed in the wild) by a specialist (schochet) trained to minimize the suffering of the animal. While the technology for achieving this is woefully out of date, the principle—tza’ar ba’alei chayyim, prohibiting needless animal suffering—is timeless. So, while a Jew can hunt, a Jew who seeks to uphold the principles of Judaism would choose not to hunt.

My daughter committed suicide. She had everything going for her, and yet preferred death to life. I suspect she knew something about life that I do not, and what she knew drove her to her death. What might that be?

I can’t imagine dealing with the death of a child, and I have only compassion for those who decide death is their best option as well as for those loved ones they leave behind. But I don’t think your daughter knew something about life that you do not know; I think she knew something about her life that you could not know because she could not, for whatever reason, let you know. And whatever that something was, it left her feeling that suicide was her only option.

This is not her fault or yours. My suggestion is to put aside speculation about what your daughter knew that drove her to die and focus instead on what you know that drives you to live. Include in your knowing the blessings you received from your daughter and the love you still have for her. Do something meaningful with your grief rather than speculate on the reasons for her death.

I’m troubled by the saying of Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If God can forsake Jesus, God can forsake any of us.

The crucifixion of Jesus is paradigmatic of what each of us must experience if we are to know the Ineffable God, or what the Chinese sage Lao Tzu called “the Tao that cannot be named.” To experience the unnamable God we must be stripped of all names for God. This is what Jesus means when he quotes Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is forsaken by his God, that is by his notion of God, and not by God per se. In other words, Jesus is freed from the God of his understanding to experience the God beyond understanding.

Being freed from his God, Jesus urges us to free ourselves from himself as well: “Don’t cling to me!” (John 20:17). This is the Gospel’s version of the Zen koan “If you meet the Buddha on the road—kill him!” It is only when we are free from our images of God, Jesus, Buddha, and the rest that we can move through the crucifixion of the isolated egoic self into the resurrection of the infinite and all-encompassing divine Self.

Diverse group in masks

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