Imitatio Christi vs. Trump’s Example

A story from The New York Times that reminds that there are some folks who walk the walk:

THE HAGUE — Jessa van der Vaart and Rosaliene Israel, two Dutch pastors, usually get to church by cycling through the streets of Amsterdam to a Protestant parish in the city center. But last Wednesday night, they packed their robes into the trunk of a car and drove down the highway to The Hague for what was the equivalent of a priestly shift change.

They would take over at 8 p.m. from a local minister at the modest Bethel Church. Then, at 11 p.m., they would be replaced by a group from the city of Voorburg, who were scheduled to pull an all-nighter, singing hymns and preaching until daylight, when another cleric would arrive to take the baton…

The two ministers were making their way to their post in what has become, as the Times wrote, a “marathon church service,” one that has been conducted continuously for the last six weeks, night and day.

Why is this happening? Because enough Dutch people, church-goers and more secular, have committed themselves to the succor of the least among them, and are being very clever about how they go about it:

Under an obscure Dutch law, the police may not disrupt a church service to make an arrest. And so for the past six weeks, immigration officials have been unable to enter Bethel Church to seize the five members of the Tamrazyan family, Armenian refugees who fled to the sanctuary to escape a deportation order.

What I find particularly cheering at this wretched pass in both US and European times is that this effort has grown into something more than a (totally praiseworthy) effort of a few folks in one neighborhood into a national expression of values:

The service, which began in late October as a little-noticed, last-gasp measure by a small group of local ministers, is now a national movement, attracting clergy members and congregants from villages and cities across the Netherlands. More than 550 pastors from about 20 denominations have rotated through Bethel Church, a nonstop service all in the name of protecting one vulnerable family.

This is, of course, a symbolic gesture, as vital as it is to the Tamrazyan family.  There are hundreds of thousands of refugees scattered through Europe, thousands upon thousands of people trapped at the US-Mexico border, and way too many evil figures weaponizing their misery to utterly malign ends.  Mobilizing over five hundred people to save five leaves so many more in desparate need.  And yet…

Symbolic acts are not meaningless ones, and far less are they powerless.  Trump and his European counterparts are loud, and they assert a claim on reality just on the volume of noise they project.  It is impossible to counter that without creating a joyful noise in response, and that is what I think is going on here.  550 ministers carry a lot of congregants behind them.  The news is clearly getting out, if late nights in a small Hague sanctuary make the Grey Lady (no longer of) 43nd St.

One last note, on the eve of one of the most festive days in the Christian calendar.  I’m far from Christian myself, as y’all know; I am rather, an atheist (some days agnostic, but not that many) Jew.  There are lots of things that the historical church has to answer for — and by “church” I mean not just those ruled by the See of Rome, but the whole passel — and in this there’s an analogue in Judaism, where as far back as Isaiah keen observers have noted gaps between ritual perfection and a genuine commitment to tikkun olam.   Through it all, though, the idea of imitatio Christi, living one’s life as much as Jesus would have, is a powerful ideal.

It’s true (and that’s exactly what Isaiah was warning about) that the loud assertion of faith can — and we’ve seen it a lot ltely — produce at best an external appearance of godliness.  But this one example in Holland cheers me tonight, if only because it bears witness to the notion that what passes for Christian politics is not defined by the travesty American evangelicals have made of it.

And with that:  a merry Christmas to all who merrify; a happy holiday to all those who happify; and a premature new year’s wish to all my fellow jackals, with no false seasonal saccharine:

FSM bless all here, and may Grabthar’s Hammer wreak havoc upon all our enemies, soon, in our days.

This thread is open for piety, blasphemy, patristics, yiddishkeit, and/or any thing else….

Image: Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The preaching of St. John the Baptist, betw. 1601 and 1604.

80 replies
  1. 1

    THIS this is Christmas.

  2. 2
    jl says:

    Thanks for thoughtful post. Merry Tikkun Olam to each and every one.
    Except, Bruegel, or Brueghal….

  3. 3
    Cermet says:

    Hope all Jackals have a merry holiday – this post high lights what I have been saying: Human induced global warming is a major cause of the refugee issue. It will only get worse as AGW gets worse. In twenty years, as the equatorial regions start experiencing 100 F nights (and worse in the day) for a week or more with high humidity, people will either flee or die. This will continue to get worse until within fifty years, most equatorial regions (currently populated by nearly 1.5 billion people) are all refugee’s. Think of that – your children will suffer from this mass exodus and certainly your grandchildren. The terrible truth is this more than any factor will cause mass deaths, starvation, and chaos in most of the world.

  4. 4
    Tom Levenson says:

    @jl: Fix’t, thanks.

  5. 5
    debbie says:

    Interesting that authorities can enter a church. Here, there’s a woman in sanctuary and no one has tried to go inside and arrest her.

  6. 6
    Mary G says:

    @Cermet: I have been wondering if right-wingers around the world deny climate change in public, but secretly know it’s coming and don’t want those brown people from down south trying to move to their cooler zones.

    Nice to see some Christians following the teachings of Christ for once, Tom, thanks for the story and also for the Grabthar’s Hammer reference. I love that movie.

  7. 7
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @jl: Tikkun Olam isn’t a holiday, it’s the real ethos at the heart of Judaism. Judaism is not orthodox in the technical sense. There is no real right belief. There really isn’t even a statement of faith. The closest thing to one is the Shema: “Hear o Israel, the Lord is G-d, the Lord is one.” Judaism is, however, orthopractic. It is about right behavior. Specifically following the Law (Torah) as communicated in the 613 commandments in the Torah (The Law, The Five Books of Moses, The Septuagint). Tikkun Olam grows out of this, as well as the fact that Judaism does not have much to say about what happens after death. There is really no highly developed sense of heaven or hell or reincarnation in Judaism, and what little there is develops after Judaism has to grapple with Christianity. As a result, what Judaism really teaches is that each person gets one life. And this is where Tikkun Olam comes in. It literally means to repair the world. The idea, or, perhaps a better term is ethic, of Tikkun Olam is that everyone should try to make the world a little bit better than they find it. Some will have the chance to make, or at least attempt to make, great improvements. Some only small ones. But all of them are necessary and important. And because there is no sense of reincarnation, no potential for a do over, then life is even more precious because you only get one chance to make things a bit better.

    I hope that makes sense.

  8. 8
    Adam L Silverman says:

  9. 9
    🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)  🗳🌷 says:

    I hate to be that guy, how long before the Dutch government changes this obscure law?

  10. 10
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: aaahhh…that does my heart good.

  11. 11
    NotMax says:

    Speaking of art (or rather, “art”) – 5 Worst Christmas Decorations Ever.

    Weirdly fascinating.

  12. 12
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Beautiful.

    “Paella Sin Fronteras” is the best.

  13. 13

    I never fail to get teary at an updated Mary and Joseph.

    Will be making challah tomorrow for a friend who loves it.

  14. 14
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: Yep.

  15. 15
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Many American evangelicals…especially the most vocal in support of Donald…do not follow Jesus of Nazareth. They follow Mammon and Moloch.

  16. 16
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Invoking your inner Thomas à Kempis, Tom?

    Just moments before you put up this post, I sent the following to my FB friends (Jews of every stripe, Christian, atheist, agnostic, Wiccan, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some):

    At this time of the year, when we celebrate the return of light, and Light; the rising of the sun, and the Son; and the running of the deer, and the Dear: may this season bring you boundless joy, peace, grace, and comfort. The happiest of holiday wishes to all my Facebook friends around the world. I am a fortunate person to have you in my life!

    Later tonight, or in the wee hours of Christmas Day, I’ll slightly reconfigure the message for the Jackaltariat. But y’all know that you’re an important part of the wishes, yes?

  17. 17
    Mnemosyne says:

    I remember reading about this vigil a few weeks ago. I’m glad to hear that it’s still ongoing and the family is still protected.

    I have a relatively minor holiday beef: I just found out that the packages I hand-delivered to our mailroom on Friday were never given to UPS, so they’re apparently still sitting in the mailroom. If they’re still there when I get back to the office on Wednesday, I’m going to be REALLY pissed.

    The recipients have been notified that their presents will be late, but I’m still annoyed. Feh.

  18. 18
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: That’s my post for tonight! Seriously, I even pulled the artist’s website and description of what he did and why did it when he did that drawing in 2014.


  19. 19
    🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)  🗳🌷 says:


    I have a relatively minor holiday beef: I just found out that the packages I hand-delivered to our mailroom on Friday were never given to UPS, so they’re apparently still sitting in the mailroom. If they’re still there when I get back to the office on Wednesday, I’m going to be REALLY pissed.

    I guess the Big Evil Corporation can be just as inefficient as the UPS. That does suck though. You even hand-delivered them! Are you going to kick some ass if they’re still there? Metaphorically speaking of course!

  20. 20
    Annie says:

    Symbolic? Not to the Tamrayzan family.

  21. 21

    @Adam L Silverman: Sorry, Adam! You can still do the backstory.

  22. 22
    realbtl says:

    Thanks Tom.

  23. 23
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Annie: Agreed, of course. But the other point is there too, I think.

  24. 24
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: We’re good. I’m amazed someone hasn’t posted it here before now. I figured I’d take the shift and keep the lights on tonight because I’ve got nothing to do for Christmas, for obvious reasons, so it’s just me, the four foots, and the premier league rugby I DVRed yesterday.

  25. 25
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Wow, even Jesuits get nasty right-wing trolls plaguing them in their replies. You gotta love the people who insist that they understand the Bible better than a mere Jesuit. 😂

    @🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)  🗳🌷:

    There will definitely be a stern phone call from me on Wednesday if the packages don’t go out today. They recently switched to a new mail services vendor that’s been fucking a lot of things up, so this is going on my list to the person who is supposed to be monitoring them.

  26. 26

  27. 27
    A Ghost To Most says:

    After the events of this year, this heathen is all blasphemed out.

    Happy Whatever.

  28. 28
    scav says:

    @A Ghost To Most: And may we all indulge the event in the mood that most captures our fancy.

  29. 29
    Mary G says:

    Secretary Nielsen makes me wish I believed in hell, so I could be comforted by the thought of her eternal suffering, or reincarnation, so I could imagine her coming back as a small insect that is chewed up but not killed by one of my cats and has to linger in unimaginable pain until the cat gets bored.

    Hundreds of migrant families released onto the streets of El Paso on Christmas Eve, without food, money or help. ICE says more will be released tomorrow and following day. If you would like to help – please donate to migrant shelter Annunciation House:— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) December 24, 2018

    The administration should be banned from saying Merry Christmas because this is some straight up evil here.

  30. 30
  31. 31

    @NotMax: What? No Trump White House decorations?

    ETA: Just remember kids, don’t put Christmas lights on palm trees.

  32. 32

    @Cheryl Rofer: A pay phone? That’s a bit dated, haven’t seen one of those in years.

  33. 33
    A Ghost To Most says:

    Where can atheists seek sanctuary?

  34. 34


    I’ll slightly reconfigure the message for the Jackaltariat.

    Gonna spice it up for Balloon Juice After Dark? Steve in the (where ever the fuck he is) will appreciate that.

  35. 35
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Mary G: Nielsen is the 21st century Bitch of Buchenwald.

  36. 36
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: That’s my brother’s house!//

  37. 37
    Mnemosyne says:

    @A Ghost To Most:

    The traditional escape from Christmas oppression is Chinese food and a trip to the movies. It was invented by the Jews, but I’m pretty sure they won’t mind having a few atheists joining them.

  38. 38
    germy says:

    Nation’s Oppressed Christians Huddle Underground To Light Single Shriveled Christmas Shrub

    UNDISCLOSED LOCATION—Persecuted and driven into hiding because of their beliefs, the nation’s oppressed Christians reportedly huddled in a secret underground bunker late Wednesday night to decorate and light a single withered Christmas shrub.

    (The Onion)

  39. 39
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @A Ghost To Most: Unitarian meetings?

  40. 40
  41. 41
    zhena gogolia says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Very well put. I think Obama, Christian that he is, really understands this.

  42. 42
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mnemosyne: I have placed a formal query with The Elders as to whether or not this is permitted. I will report back if and when I’m authorized to do so.//

  43. 43
    debbie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Saint Darlene says it is more than permitted.

  44. 44
  45. 45

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: Is that from the holiday lights show at Del Mar?

    Mom and I stumbled into it one year while doing a post-Christmas day trip to San Diego one year.

  46. 46
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Maybe Ghost can sprinkle a few Yiddish phrases into his conversation to try and pass.

    My Catholic family had a tradition of having “dinner” at around 2 pm on Christmas Day and then dropping all of the kids off at the movies for the evening, but I’m pretty sure that was to get rid of us so they could relax and have a few extra drinks.

  47. 47
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: ah—that reminds me of a question for the hive mind: is it safe to go to Egypt now? Or should the wife and I go to the Luxor in Las Vegas instead?

  48. 48
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Adam L Silverman: @zhena gogolia:

    Christian that he is

    Yea, nobody seems to have a handle on the definition of this term. To use it so authoritatively seems a bit of hubris, but from my perspective, consistent with what I consider a common trait among those people.

  49. 49
    NotMax says:

    @A Ghost To Most

    Dolt 45 had an uncle who once ate a cracker, thus he knows more about Christianity than anyone ever.

  50. 50
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Mary G:

    I donated via Paypal and posted it on my Facebook. When I get back to work on Wednesday, I’ll check and see if Annunciation House is set up for matching donations from the Giant Evil.

  51. 51
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @NotMax: I stuck myself good with a leather sewing needle earlier, and drank the blood trying to get it to stop.
    Am I covered from lightning strikes?

    Eta I was eating a Mary’s Gone Crackers cracker at the time.

  52. 52
    NotMax says:

    @A Ghost To Most

    Only if it was type DC.


  53. 53
    Noname says:

    @Adam L Silverman: @Adam L Silverman: @Adam L Silverman: Even if this wasn’t clear, your next comment illustrates it perfectly. May the world be a better place for all of us at this time next year…with a few exceptions that shall not be named…

  54. 54
    hilts says:


    Happy Holidays to a fellow atheist Jew. Love the Brueghel painting and appreciate all the great paintings you include in your posts!

    I’ve always liked this painting by Bruegel the Elder

  55. 55
    Schlemazel says:

    Having grown up with Jewish friends I learned a few phrases and some of the traditions. I could pass as Reform as long as nobody looked too close!

  56. 56

    @Mary G:

    I have been wondering if right-wingers around the world deny climate change in public, but secretly know it’s coming and don’t want those brown people from down south trying to move to their cooler zones.

    You don’t have to believe in global warming to believe in refugees.

  57. 57

    @Sister Golden Bear: No that’s the National Christmas Tree on the ellipse. Not lit due to the shutdown.

  58. 58
    Alternative Fax, a hip hop artist from Idaho says:

    @Adam L Silverman: What is the oft-quoted statement of Hillel? Something about

    That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary

    Am I close? Wasn’t there once a similar Christian declaration?

  59. 59

    @Steve in the ATL: I’d stick to Vegas, that also have an Eiffel Tower(as does Glendale, but you knew that).

    ETA: Actually Glendale has a pyramid as well.

  60. 60
    NotMax says:

    @Steve in the ATL:

    Depends how keen the two of you are to visit granaries.


  61. 61
    Jay says:


    Thank you so much for this front page post,


    Thank you for the paella sin Frontieras comment,

    It’s good to know that there is good happening still in the world.

    Thank you again.

  62. 62


    You gotta love the people who insist that they understand the Bible better than a mere Jesuit. 😂

    I remember the good old days when calling somebody more Catholic than the pope was a joke about how religious they were, not a sarcastic comment about them seriously trying to correct the pontiff on questions of doctrine.

  63. 63
    NotMax says:

    On the fine art/Christmas front, as they’re facing opposite, you just know she’s thinking, “Damn men, always refuse to ask for directions.”

  64. 64
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Alternative Fax, a hip hop artist from Idaho: That is correct. It is what Jesus was quoting when he was asked what is the Law by the pharisee in the first gospel. And why, when he answered with this, the Pharisee responded with “good answer brother”. The pharisees were the early rabbis and Jesus was a pharisee from the Galilee. They had a few unorthodox, for lack of a better term, ideas such as all things that were created had a divine spark, hence Jesus’s cursing of the fig tree. So often when pharisees came into contact with their Galilean colleagues, there was some doctrinal testing.

  65. 65
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Noname: Glad all that education could be put to good use.

  66. 66
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Roger Moore: All non-pontifical ex-Cathedra pronouncements matter!//

  67. 67
    NotMax says:

    @Adam L. Silverman

    “I’ve got good news and bad news.”

    “What’s the good news?”

    “I wrote a bunch of this stuff down and stored it in urns.”

    “And the bad news?”

    “Totally forgot which cave I stuck it in for safekeeping.”

    /I’ll be here all census season; try the gefilte fish.

  68. 68
    Bjacques says:

    I was vaguely aware of the Tamrazyan family’s plight. I perused the national paers and gleaned the following:

    The father was with the opposition party and must have been tipped off the family weren’t safe in Armenia. They still may not be, even with opposition in power, because, hey, politics. There’s also the larger issue of the “kinderpardon” not being flexible enough to cover older children. It’s also resistance to anti-immigrant parties like the PVV (led by Geert Wilders) and FvD (Thierry Baudet, who’s worse than Wilders) and the mainstream parties pandering to the voters of those two parties.

    Anyway, what a great time to read about this happening in my backyard!

  69. 69
  70. 70
    susanna says:

    @Jay: Since Jay expresses my gratitude for the writings and art piece from Tom and Adam, I’ll tag onto his comments.

  71. 71
    Ruckus says:

    That is freaking hilarious.
    Wonder how the neighbors liked it?

  72. 72
    Ruckus says:

    A pay phone? I’ve seen a working one of those in the last month.
    can’t believe it myself but it was real.

  73. 73
    J R in WV says:

    Thanks for this post, the art, the information in the comments, everything everyone is doing to get our world back on track ~!!!~

    Ya’ll jackals keep me going through this hell we are in right now.

    Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night!

  74. 74


    “Damn men, always refuse to ask for directions.”

    I don’t think so. Go back and re-read Matthew 2. It was men asking directions that led directly to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus needing to flee in the first place. The Magi came to Jerusalem and started asking for directions to the place where the new king of the Jews has just been born. That tipped off Herod and led to him ordering the deaths of all the babies in Bethlehem, which is why Jesus’ family had to flee to Egypt. Men have been so scarred by the experience that they’ve sworn off asking for directions ever since.

  75. 75
    NotMax says:

    @Roger Moore

    After the fact revisionist history.


    “Fake Jews!”
      – Dolt 45’s great-great-[insert a lot more greats here] grandfather

  76. 76
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Alternative Fax, a hip hop artist from Idaho: Hey, there – just saw yr email, will respond in a bit. Currently taking a break from trying my not-very-skillful best to help locate a leak on a skidsteer tire. While cooking dinner. Never a dull moment in the Moutain Hacienda!

  77. 77
    Bill Arnold says:

    @Mary G:

    I have been wondering if right-wingers around the world deny climate change in public, but secretly know it’s coming and don’t want those brown people from down south trying to move to their cooler zones.

    Pretty much, IMO, though I haven’t found solid evidence (or looked very hard). Rough speculation: There are interests that are stoking Fascist / Nativist / anti-immigration movements to normalize (politically, emotionally) blocking refuges moving poles-ward before the real waves of climate refuges start. They think of themselves as the good guys because they only want to reduce the human global population by 4 billion or so, rather than the bad ones who would would reduce global human population to a billion or so. Sci-fi vision: walls are just the start, then surveillance nets, drones, armed drones, autonomous armed drones, etc.
    The (speculated) camps do not consider it remotely reasonable (or plausible) to leave trillions of dollars worth of extractable, monetizable fossil carbon in the ground. (Note: US, Russia, Saudi Arabia are bestest allies now. Why Saudi Arabia is not panicking I have no clue. [0])

    [0] Strongly increasing heat extremes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 21st century” (2016) – look at figure 2, rcp 8.5 (burn all extractable fossil carbon) and wonder why SA is doing this. Perhaps it’s The Orb?

  78. 78
    Jay says:

    @Miss Bianca:

    Drained out the sand/chemical mixture that worked as ballast in the skidsteer tires years ago and replaced it with the self annealing green flat fix goop.

  79. 79
    Bill Arnold says:

    @Bill Arnold:
    As evidence, DJ Trump today: “I am in the Oval Office & just gave out a 115 mile long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas. We are already building and renovating many miles of Wall, some complete. Democrats must end Shutdown and finish funding. Billions of Dollars, & lives, will be saved!”
    See, billions (about 4 billion, say; the rest are mostly non-white) of lives will be saved.

  80. 80
    Mainmata says:

    Your posts, Tom, are always intelligent, thoughtful and soulful. Tikun olam to you. And also Merry Christmas. (And good on the Dutch.)

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