Fox Byte 5776 #4: I’m Still Here

Jim Hawkins (voice by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns about the stars from John Silver (Brian Murray) in Treasure Planet, the 2002 Disney adaptation of Treasure Island. (Photo: Rotton Tomatoes)
Jim Hawkins (voice by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns about the stars from John Silver (Brian Murray) in Treasure Planet, the 2002 Disney adaptation of Treasure Island. (Photo: Rotten Tomatoes)

If Treasure Island is any indication, a young person’s transition to adulthood has always been awkward and painful.  At least it was so in the 1880s when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his story for boys.  Stevenson’s adolescent hero, Jim Hawkins, has resonated with youth ever since.  What boy does not dream of adventure, travelling to exotic places, deciphering mysteries, and overcoming danger?  Such dreams have motivated boys for millennia in the hope that they can find their courage and discover their place in life.  If the opportunities are not forthcoming then boys will invent them, if for no other reason than to establish a place for themselves in their own minds and, hopefully, in the minds of their peers.

So it is with Jim Hawkins.  As the son of an innkeeper he has little hope of adventure until a strange turn of events sets him on a hazardous sea voyage in search of hidden pirate gold.  Jim proves to be the hero, thwarting the mutinous plot of rebellious sailors led by Long John Silver, saving the lives of the captain and loyal crew members, and discovering the treasure.  Not bad for an 18th century version of an underprivileged wayward teen.

Stevenson could not have envisioned the retelling of his story as a space travel adventure in which his hero is not merely underprivileged, but rebellious, sullen, introverted, and destined for a life at odds with society.  That is the Jim Hawkins of Treasure Planet, the 2002 animated feature by Walt Disney Pictures.  This space age Jim reflects the jaded, self-absorbed youth of the post-modern world.  We follow Jim’s transformation from wide-eyed, joyful toddler to embittered youth.  It is not a transformation he undertakes willingly.  It is not his fault that his parents quarrel, but he suffers incalculably on the morning his father walks out.  In an instant Jim is abandoned by the one person who could set him on the right course, leaving him to cast about for someone or something to give him purpose.  In time Long John Silver the pirate fills that role as the two of them develop a relationship that proves redemptive for them both.  There is a happy ending after all, but not without anguish along the way.

Jim’s angst is the subject of I’m Still Here, a song written for the film by John Rzeznik.  It is an anthem for an alienated generation which does not know its identity.  Cast adrift to find their own answers, these young people feel (with some justification) that their elders would rather they remain silent and invisible until they are able to join the adult world.  Yet how are they to do so if no one makes the effort to guide them?  Thus the youth have only two alternatives:  either despair and end their miserable lives, or hang on in defiance against all expectations.  Rzeznik’s lyrics tell us the option Jim Hawkins selects:

And you see the thing they never see,
All you wanted, I could be,
Now you know me, and I’m not afraid,
And I wanna tell you who I am,
Can you help me be a man? ,
They can’t break me,
As long as I know who I am.

The song ends with Jim’s defiant, yet hopeful, refrain, “I’m still here!”  His defiance is not unlike Job’s defiance in the face of what he perceives to be unjust accusations by his friends:

Teach me, and I will be silent; and show me how I have erred.  How painful are honest words!  But what does your argument prove?  Do you intend to reprove my words, when the words of one in despair belong to the wind?  (Job 6:24-26 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5776 #3: Questionable Consolation

The arrival of Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner of Titipu. From the 2008 production of The Mikado by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society.
The arrival of Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner of Titipu. From the 2008 production of The Mikado by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society.

Pompous people lend themselves so readily to ridicule.  Unconsciously, of course.  By their very nature they would not stoop to the indignity of common humor since it punctures the mirage of superior respectability they strive to maintain.  That is precisely what makes it so easy (and so much fun) to lampoon such persons – albeit usually without their knowledge since they generally are the ones who wield power.  Whether it is the official in high office, the wealthy heir, or the elderly matron, such people disapprove of anything or anyone that upsets their self-imposed definition of what is right and proper.  Such definitions tend to be myopic at best, as well as inflexible, brittle, and hilariously easy to dispel.  Doing so brings amusement and some measure of relief to the oppressed even though it likely will not result in appreciable change, or perhaps even notice by the butt of the joke.

Which explains why the operas of W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan are still appealing.  The best of their works feature masterful caricatures of England’s increasingly ossified Victorian society of the late 19th century.  Perhaps the best of the best is The Mikado, a farce set in Imperial Japan, but featuring decidedly English characters and situations.  This is apparent from the opening scene when a chorus of Japanese gentlemen strut haughtily about the stage singing of their lofty status.  We soon learn that Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner of the town of Titipu, has a dilemma:  the Mikado, Japan’s emperor, has decreed that since there has been no execution of a criminal in Titipu for quite some time, an execution must take place within a month.  It just so happens that Ko-Ko is himself a condemned criminal on reprieve from execution and is next in line for the chopping block.  He is “consoled” by two noblemen, Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush.  Pooh-Bah explains that his family pride calls on him to take Ko-Ko’s place, but his desire for self-preservation prevents him from doing so.  Pish-Tush takes a different approach with this empathetic offering:

I heard one day a gentleman say
That criminals who are cut in two
Can hardly feel the fatal steel,
And so are slain, are slain without much pain.
If this is true, it’s jolly for you,
Your courage screw to bid us adieu.

Ko-Ko is not amused with either man’s offering, which leads Pish-Tush to confess the truth:

And go and show
Both friend and foe how much you dare.
I’m quite aware it’s your affair.
Yet I declare I’d take your share,
But I don’t much care.

That is not unlike the lamentable comfort of Job’s friend Eliphaz:

Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?  Or where were the upright destroyed?  According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it.  (Job 4:7-8 NASB)

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Predestined Identity?

James Arminius (Jakob Hermanszoon) and John Calvin, two highly influential figures of the Protestant Reformation whose opposing doctrinal positions illustrate the fact that we still see YHVH's plans imperfectly.
James Arminius (Jakob Hermanszoon) and John Calvin, two highly influential figures of the Protestant Reformation whose opposing doctrinal positions illustrate the fact that we still see YHVH’s plans imperfectly.

Among the many things for which I frequently thank YHVH is that I got to grow up in a Southern Baptist church and a Presbyterian school.  From an early age I came to appreciate the doctrinal positions of both and their roots in Arminianism and Calvinism.  Concerning the key elements of free will and predestination, I concluded long ago that they are not mutually exclusive.  I do not understand exactly how they work, but I do know that both are part of God’s operation in human affairs.  God’s sovereignty and human responsibility intertwine in very complicated and intricate ways to produce outcomes that YHVH declares from the beginning, but which finite mankind must play out in faith and obedience – or in ignorance and despair, depending on one’s perspective.

But what if predestination means something different from what we suppose?  What if it refers to the fate of a nation rather than individuals?  Consider this:  YHVH has promised from ancient times to establish permanently the seed of Abraham on the Promised Land in the form of a nation called Israel.  Moreover, He has promised to open the way for people of all nations to come into that holy nation and be part of His eternal covenant of peace.  What if predestination refers to YHVH’s intent to do this thing just as He said?  If “nation” is the real object of predestination, then we have no need to speculate about whether God has chosen certain individuals for salvation and others for damnation.  The way of salvation is open to all individuals through the nation He has predestined as His vehicle of salvation.

This line of thinking requires far more development than is possible in a short blog post.  However, it is unquestionable that God, through Messiah Yeshua, has opened the way for every person on earth to exchange his or her identity of birth for an identity as Abraham’s children, and therefore as Israelites.  This is a point Ephraim Frank explores in the following commentary.


BFB150909 Etz Bney Yosef

Predestined

Ephraim Frank

Etz B’ney Yosef

October 16, 2015

Shalom Fellow Israelite,

Trust you all had a wonderful Succot celebration.  I’m sure you have heard about the various happenings here in the land, with the spirit of violence manifesting again through Israeli Arab citizens, Arab residents of Jerusalem, and others, in the Palestinian territories and Gaza (while this spirit is not totally sidestepping Israelis either).  Thank you for your prayers during these troublesome times.

As we continue into the unpredictable future (a phrase that some may take exception to), our faith and confidence in a faithful covenant keeping Elohim should reach new heights of revelation-understanding.  Yeshua’s purpose in returning to the heavens was to send the Spirit of the Kingdom into the hearts of those elected and predestined for the promise of this Spirit, as is evidenced by the following:  “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will…”  (Ephesians 1:11).  “For whom He [the Father] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).  He also “predestined us to the adoption as sons by Yeshua the Messiah to Himself [the Father], according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6).

The question that arises from the above scriptures is, who are the predestined ones that have been called, foreknown and chosen beforehand, justified, glorified and adopted for His purposes?  The apostle states very clearly in Romans 9:4-5a, when he makes reference to those “…who are Israelites, to whom belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Torah, the service of Elohim, and the promises; of whom are the fathers…

Most of the Israelites (those who are not Jewish) have lost their identity, but as prophesied have become multitudes in many nations.  Those from among them who are still lacking the knowledge or realization of their true identity will not fully understand the New Covenant, their destiny and the reconstitution of nationhood, nor the above-cited predetermined characteristics, even though what is written in Ephesians 2:11-13, concerning those who were “once far off”, but who are now part of the “commonwealth of Israel” should cause them to at least question their present (“gentile”) identity.

However, through Yeshua the Kinsman Redeemer, and the working of the Holy Spirit many are now embracing Torah, and as a result their hearts are turning back to the forefathers and to the identity (or, conversely, for others, the discovery of the identity is what restores them to the forefathers and the Torah).  The light of this revelation points to the importance of reconciliation within the House of Jacob (which is the whole House of Israel).  Hence efforts are being made toward the re-gathering of our nation.  One such meeting took place last May in Ariel, Israel, in the form of the “B’ney Yosef National Congress”, and now follow-up summits are due to occur in Texas, Germany, and Florida.  The next B’ney Yosef National Congress will be held, Yah willing, once more in Ariel Israel October 26-31, 2016.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ephraim


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2015-2016.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fox Byte 5776 #2: Uncomplicated Good, Unrelenting Evil

Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, and Natasha. © Jay Ward Productions. Illustration accessed on Dishonest John's T.V. Toons.)
Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, and Natasha.  (© Jay Ward Productions. Illustration accessed on Dishonest John’s T.V. Toons.)

Great art retains its appeal through time.  This is true even with works created for children – including cartoons such as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  The success of this cartoon classic is due to the things children appreciate:  outrageous characters, simple story lines, a make-believe world that mirrors real life, and just enough irreverence to entice the mischievous streak in every youngster.  And yet those who grew up with Rocky the flying squirrel and his friend Bullwinkle J. Moose continue to appreciate the show because of its sophistication.  As children we could not possibly understand the clever references to the Cold War then raging between the United States and the Soviet Union, nor the endless puns and jabs at politics, literature, and popular culture. 

As children we did not need to know those things.  All we needed to know was that Bullwinkle and Rocky were funny.  Even the villains were funny.  Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, along with their Fearless Leader, soon acquired fame that rivalled the title characters.  As caricatures of Soviet spies and political figures they were the perfect foils.  Moreover, they established a clear line between good and evil for young viewers.  Every child knew that Boris and Natasha were bad.  Their ceaseless efforts at killing Bullwinkle to advance their evil country’s fortunes originated from nothing else than pure meanness (as explained by Fearless Leader himself in the story “Goof Gas Attack”).  If the plot were exceptionally evil the spies would receive orders not only to deal with Bullwinkle, but to kill moose and squirrel.  Even when they received a note from Fearless Leader saying, “DO NOT kill Moose and Squirrel”, we knew that this apparent kindness occurred only because at that point the evil plans would best be served by keeping Rocky and Bullwinkle alive.

Children may not understand such things completely, but they grasp them instinctively.  Understanding comes later, after they have become adults and acquired years of knowledge and experience, not all of which is good or pleasant.  Children in their innocence discern good and evil, but they take as established fact that there is no gray area between the two.  After a few significant encounters in the real world they begin to learn that people and things can be confusing mixtures of good and evil.  Some appear to be good, but are evil at the core.  Some may do evil things, but for good reasons – or so they maintain.  Some do good for selfish reasons.  The sad reality is that children soon learn there is no absolute good among human beings, which makes navigation of this world exceedingly hazardous.  It is easier to revert to childhood innocence and attempt to stay there as long as possible.

The childlike place is comforting and safe.  There we recognize that good and evil exist, but all we need do is cling to the one while avoiding the other.  We need not seek the origins of evil, nor try to understand why evil and good seem to be intertwined in every heart.  A child will take the word of its parents in faith and act accordingly.  If they say a thing is good or bad, the child will act on that.  It is only later that the child begins to inquire into the nature of good and bad.  In time that path of inquiry leads to a line that should never be crossed:  the point of defining good and evil on his own terms.  Unfortunately, it seems that this very line has marked the boundary between childhood and adulthood since the time of Adam and Eve.  That may be why Messiah Yeshua said this:

And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:2-4 NASB) Please click here to continue reading

Fox Byte 5776 #1: When Good is Not Enough

The Barking Fox just completed the annual Torah Cycle and is ready to embark on another year of Bible commentary.  Rather than embark on another systematic journey through the Torah and Haftarah, in this Hebrew year 5776 Fox Bytes will focus on selected books and topics, starting with the book of Job.

Marlon Brando as Marc Antony in the 1953 film version of Julius Caesar. (Photo: 451 Years of William Shakespeare, The Telegraph
Marlon Brando as Marc Antony in the 1953 film version of Julius Caesar. (Photo:  “451 Years of William Shakespeare”, The Telegraph)

A sad commentary on human nature is that people who stand for what is right rarely are the people with whom one would prefer to be seen in public.  We may honor such saintly persons as Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, or William Wilberforce, but we do not want to be close friends with them – or at least not let such relationships be known.  Our preference is to hang out with “good old boys”, friends who like the things we like, sympathize with our problems, and make us feel better about ourselves without actually causing us to change.  That, of course, is the problem with those saintly people:  they uphold high standards of right living which make us feel uncomfortable.  It does not matter how blessed they appear to be, or the peace they seem to enjoy in any situation, or that they give the authorities no cause for alarm.  The truth is that they are righteous, and their righteousness interferes with our desire to live comfortably and indulge whatever pleasure seems good.

Shakespeare understood this fact of human nature.  He made use of it in his masterful manipulation of the Roman public through Marc Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar.  Caesar’s assassins justify their murderous act by saying the great man was ambitious and that his ambition would have been the death of Roman freedom.  Antony seems to agree, saying “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”, a statement that indicates whatever good Caesar would have done has died with him.  Then he turns the tables, calling the assassins honorable men – good men whom the good citizens of Rome should trust, and with whom they should be glad to associate.  Yet their honorable good pales in comparison to Caesar’s selfless ambition:  an ambition that enriched Rome through his military service, that wept for Rome’s poor, and that refused a kingly crown thrice offered.  In other words, any honor that may have accrued to Caesar’s assassins was as nothing compared to the great man’s righteousness in life and legacy in death.

We learn through Shakespeare’s theatrical Marc Antony a truth written centuries earlier to a real Roman audience by a man who also understood something about human nature:

For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  (Romans 5:7 NASB)

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