46 Days: Why Am I Doing This?

Well I’m no anti-church MG, and I am sure that’s what some people need; the addicted, desperate, people who just need a simple message and don’t want to trudge through miles of learning. I just don’t feel that I can identify with church very well anymore, learning aside. In fact, I never did in retrospect. It was only leaving church that made me realize how little I related to it all my life. A fish does not know it’s wet, I reckon.

I went back a few times to appease family on some occasions. Meh. Nice messages here and there and very nice people, but it still felt like it did years ago. It’s a very nice suit that does not fit me.

-A comment from a blog

While on vacation recently my Mom requested I go to church with her, since she visits synagogue with me when she visits it was only appropriate. Although I was not at home, there was still a message, it was positive, and I learned from it.

The church is not some area of non-intellectual ramblings. There is great scholarly work going on in the church and we would all do well to pay attention. It saddens me that so many in the Messianic movement are so elitist.

-A comment from Facebook

The concept of Divine Providence is this: Not only are all particular movements of the various creatures directed by Providence, and not only is that Providence itself the life-force and maintained existence of every creature – but even more, the particular movement of any creature is in general terms related to the grand design of Creation… The aggregate of all individual acts brings to completion G-d’s grand design in the mystery of all Creation.

Ponder this: If the swaying of a blade of grass is brought about by Divine Providence and is crucial to the fulfillment of the purpose of Creation, how much more so with regard to mankind in general, and Israel (the people close to him) (Tehillim 148:14; Siddur p. 36) in particular!

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Cheshvan 28, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

I guess when you post your life in various online venues, anyone who can respond, will respond with their opinion on what you should do with your life, and what is wrong with the choices you’ve made thus far…regardless of which choices you’ve actually made. It’s as if I posted on Facebook, “I voted for Obama,” then everyone who is against Obama would tell me why that was a bad move…or if I posted “I voted for Romney,” then everyone who was against Romney would tell me why I am so foolish.

Oh, and then there’s God. I have no idea what God thinks of politics, but perhaps it’s not so arrogant and self-centered of me to imagine He thinks something about my decision to go back to church. I’m hoping that He thinks it was the right decision and moreover, I’m hoping that my decision is actually part of God’s plan for my life.

Is it arrogant and self-centered to believe that God has a plan for my one, small, individual life? After all, there are billions of people who live on Earth today. Untold trillions and trillions of human beings have been born, lived, and died all throughout the history of the human race. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of them have been mentioned in the Bible (or any other holy book), and of those people, we sometimes don’t know which ones we can take as literally being real humans who lived real lives, vs. some unknown scribe somewhere writing an allegory about someone named “Job” to make a moral point.

But if I didn’t believe that God has some sort of desire for my life and that being born wasn’t just a random event where genetic material from my parents got together as an act of chance, then it wouldn’t matter if I went to church or not, whether I read the Bible or not, and it wouldn’t matter whether I really did anything at all or not. God would paint the world with broad brush strokes effecting His will in the grand scheme, and the little swirls and blots made on the canvas by the microscopic, individual hairs in the brush would have absolutely no significance at all.

And yet, we microscopic, individual brush hairs that make our microscopic, individual brush strokes go to great lengths to try to convince one another that our theological or philosophical points of view are not only significant, but damn well important and even vital, not just to you and me, but to the ultimate destiny of the world and mankind.

Today, as I write this, Derek Leman has published a blog post called Not a Good Idea to Nullify the Jewish People. I happen to agree that we shouldn’t nullify (or murder or exterminate) the Jewish people too, but there are a lot of other folks, from Hamas terrorists to their American and European supporters, who disagree with me. It seems like most human beings find their significance in the destruction or marginalization of others. It’s probably always been that way.

Yesterday (again, as I write this), Leman published Encouragement for the Future of MJ, and I had this to say in response:

As far as Christians, the church, and reconciliation, you probably don’t want me to repeat myself here. Anything I have to say on the topic is currently being said on my own blog, particularly in the “Days” series. I guess you could call me a “Philo-Judaic Christian” (it still doesn’t sound right) who’s gone back to church, ultimately fulfilling the desires of Mark Kinzer and the other Jewish supporters of strict bilateral ecclesiology as well as the imperatives outlined in Boaz Michael’s soon to be published book Tent of David.

Kinzer and Boaz aside, the real reason I “went back to church” is because I think it makes my wife happy and I think that’s where God wants me to be right now. I have no idea what He’s up to, quite frankly, but I guess I’ll find out.

I’d like to think that I’m living a life in response to God, but I also can’t really help responding to other people. I must admit that a number of my decisions about how I express my faith are driven by being intermarried and my wife’s Jewish identity (but as Rabbi Kalman Packouz at Aish.com reminded me again this morning, my being intermarried is universally another bad thing about me from a Jewish point of view).

46 days. I’ve got 46 days. I know, the time limit is arbitrary. I set it because setting some future date that must arrive before making a decision prevents me from “pulling the plug” impulsively in an annoyed response to someone’s criticism. Setting it in the foreseeable future gives me time, but not an endless amount of time, to ponder, explore, and investigate the options that exist for me, but then demands that I finally choose one of those options.

46 days. The safest option is to wait for January 1, 2013, lock out comments on this blog (I still couldn’t bear to destroy it), remove the bookmarked links from my web browsers leading here, and then never come back. The safest option would be to delete my Facebook and twitter accounts, delete most of the extraneous blogs I sometimes use that most of you don’t know even exist, remove my presence from any other online venue I absolutely don’t need to be a part of, and then do whatever I feel I need to do outside of most people’s awareness and scrutiny. The only influences would be me, my family, and God (even though none of those influences are very clear regarding their intent).

I know a lot of you religious folks say stuff like, “Don’t listen to people, listen only to God,” but in real life, it’s not as easy as all that. I still live in a world of people and believe me, there are days when a nice, little cottage, isolated in a wooded area somewhere sounds amazingly appealing. No phone. No Internet. Just some books to read and a wood fireplace for atmosphere and warmth.

And God would still be there.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV)

Running out of timeOf course, as I’ve also been reminded, not everything Jewish people wrote to other Jewish people can apply to a non-Jewish person, even one who is in a covenant relationship with God through the Jewish Messiah (and plenty of folks have opinions about that, too).

Fortunately, there are also messages like this one:

Please don’t give up, because there is no place else to go in our area. I don’t know where my own journey will take me either, right now I don’t see it headed back to any church. I am watching what you do and how you handle the hurdles thrown in front of you.

I cropped out the rest of the email to preserve the privacy of the sender, but it was a nice message to read this morning.

46 days. I know, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” That’s how I remember Matthew 4:7 from childhood.

46 days. For better or for worse (or for both), other people are watching me. I don’t know why exactly, except that what I’m going through must be like what a lot of people are facing. They just don’t talk about it. I talk about it. I talk about it a ridiculous amount. Why am I doing this? I don’t always know.

Well, right now I know why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because enough people have told me it matters to them that I do this. If that’s also the voice of God, I’m fine with that, too.

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8 thoughts on “46 Days: Why Am I Doing This?”

  1. I’m very thankful for your blog, James, and for your steadfast faithfulness on your journey. Your walk, and Boaz’s book, gave me the ability to say Okay when my husband wanted us to attend services with one of our subcontractors who is seeking. (I DO wish they’d mute the brass section during worship; if Doc Severinsen were there, he’d be grinding his teeth to nubs.)

  2. Thanks, Michelle. I’m hanging in there for the time being. It’ll be interesting to see what people talk about at church this coming Sunday now that Hamas terrorism is heating up in Israel again.

  3. Hi James,. I also would like to encourage you concerning your blog. I am not always able to read everything but I am very much interested in your journey especially what you are doing now connected with church. I really wanted to send you an e-mail message about how it is related to what we are doing in our little corner of Missouri, but I seem to have lost your e-mail address. I changed e-mail clients to get rid of unwanted spam and apparently all my contact information didn’t get transferred. I know I have sent you e-mail messages before. If you would, please send me another e-mail message so I can capture your address again. I am confident that God will give you strength for the journey you are on. I for one believe your writing is having a positive impact on quite a few people in spite of those who might want to disagree and condemn. Blessings to you brother.

  4. “delete most of the extraneous blogs I sometimes use that most of you don’t know even exist, ”

    Intrigued…will you share privately?

  5. You’re welcome. Honesty that doesn’t have the goal to hurt other people seems to be in short supply on the Internet. I hope I’m making some small effort to balance that out.

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